How Has Slate’s Stylebook Changed Recently? A Guide for Language Nerds.

Comments
Slate Plus
Your all-access pass
April 30 2014 11:04 AM
Comments

The Evolution of Style

Copy chief Lowen Liu explains the recent changes to Slate’s stylebook and why they matter.

140428_PLUS_StyleGuideLowen

Photo-illustration by Slate

As language evolves, so must a magazine’s stylebook. The question of when and why is more complicated—the pressures of an accelerating culture, of the Internet, are constant. In everyday practice Slate tries to be supple with vernacular, while ultimately remaining conservative for the sake of clarity and consistency. Like many publications, we rely on the AP Stylebook as the basis for ours, but we frequently find ourselves moving faster (or slower) than AP, or straight-up contradicting it. Here are 10 notable examples:

bitcoin: When the electronic currency gained prominence, AP differentiated between “Bitcoin” the concept and “bitcoin” the currency. Huh? We went with lowercase from the start. AP caught up later.

serial comma: We use it.

black/African-American: Slate recently codified a shift away from using “–American” hyphenates to describe race. Many good reasons have been documented elsewhere. Simply put, as time goes on the “geographic origin” assignation makes less and less sense as a racial term—it is too easily confused with terms for actual recent immigrants, and no one uses European-American for white. We prefer black and black American unless a subject’s preference is explicitly given.

to: We have long prided ourselves on our idiosyncratic rules for headline casing. One of our quirkiest was a longstanding rule to capitalize To in headlines when used as part of an infinitive. So, “Dog Runs to Man,” but, “Bee Is Free To Buzz.” No more. It just became too confusing for everyone.

over/more than: Despite a recent controversial change by AP, Slate continues to prefer more than with quantities and leave over to the spatial comparisons. We’re idiosyncratic, not insane. For now.

Myanmar/Burma: The name debate has abated slightly with the country’s recent political reforms. While Slate originally stuck to Burma, resisting the adoption of Myanmar by AP and other news organizations (interestingly, there was something of a divide between U.S. newspapers and U.S. magazines), that stance has softened, as has the State Department’s. Like our president, we can now be found referring to both Myanmar (also known as Burma) and Burma (also known as Myanmar), defaulting to the former.

Washington, D.C.’s professional football team: This has been covered extensively.

hardcore: True word acceptance often involves the culture at large deciding once and for all that a hyphen should be removed. We persevered with “hard-core” until very recently.

paywall: Similarly, we only just removed the hyphen from “pay-wall”—a decision prompted, in fact, by the launch of Slate Plus, so we could tell you with confidence that we know what we’re talking about when we tell you that Slate Plus is not, in fact, a paywall.

ping-pong: But sometimes the hyphen just needs to be there.

TODAY IN SLATE

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

Where Ebola Lives Between Outbreaks

Gunman Killed Inside Canadian Parliament; Soldier Shot at National Monument Dies

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Paul Farmer: Up to 90 Percent of Ebola Patients Should Survive

Is he right?

Science

“I’m Not a Scientist” Is No Excuse

Politicians brag about their ignorance while making ignorant decisions.

Politics

The Right to Run

If you can vote, you should be able to run for public office—any office.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea 

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 22 2014 6:30 PM The Tragedies That Have Shaped Canada's Gun Politics
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 22 2014 4:10 PM Skinny Mark Wahlberg Goes for an Oscar: The First Trailer for The Gambler
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.