Hey, everyone! It’s been way too long since I had a guest over for Book Talk, and there’s a really good reason for it. Actually, there are a couple good reasons, but the main one is because the book I wanted to talk about, the Book of All Books—yes, you all know it as The Chicago Manual of Style—released a new edition at the end of 2017!
I have to tell you, my heart went a-fluttering when I saw the 17th edition for sale. I sat on my back steps in the snow, waiting for the UPS guy to bring my Amazon box.
But—and I know you won’t believe this—I searched everywhere for someone who wanted to talk about it, and . . . well, you know how it is . . . everyone was busy with Thanksgiving. And Christmas. And New Year’s Eve. And then Valentine’s Day rolled around, and Easter, and—do you know how many people get swamped with having to shampoo their dogs or do their laundry and can’t spare the time to talk about the newest changes in CMOS? What on earth could possibly trump that kind of excitement, am I right?
So I decided to trick S.K. Anthony (Kat) by inviting her over for coffee (she'll do anything for coffee), and I left my beloved CMOS on the table. I know after her first sip she'll talk about anything, so here we are, having the time of our lives!
Kat: So, Lynda, I really appreciate you—
Lyn: Oh, I appreciate you too! [Grins.]
Kat: Umm . . . right. [Grins back uncertainly.] I mean, yes, of course! . . . but . . . I also appreciate you having me over for coffee and book talk—oh, good God! Is this the book?
Lyn: YES! Isn’t it great?
Kat: [Wipes horrified look off her face.] Wow . . . I just have no words. Is there more coffee? I think I’m going to need more. I’m so . . . excited? I think that’s the word. What does the Chicago Manual say?
Lyn: [Pets the book lovingly.] Oh, pfft. What doesn’t it say? It’s . . . um . . . well, look how shiny it is! Isn’t it shiny?
Kat: It’s literally blinding me. It’s so shiny maybe it’s best you hold on to it and I’ll just ask you to check stuff for me. I have sensitive eyes, you know?
Lyn: Oh, I’m cool with holding on to it. I wouldn’t want to damage your vision. [Pulls book a little closer.]
Kat: Plus, it doesn’t seem like you’ll let go of it anyway . . . but since you have it and all, tell me—what’s new with this edition that has you so obsessed with it?
Lyn: There’s all kinds of exciting stuff! I can’t even list it all because you might be overwhelmed and then we’d run out of coffee. You seem to need extra today for whatever reason. But yeah, trust me. There’s STUFF. Lots of it. Like, did you know you didn’t need to put a comma after “etc.” anymore unless it’s confusing not to?
Kat: Oh my goodness! I didn’t know that. My only concern is I’m not sure when anything in that book isn’t confusing.
Lyn: But that’s why you have ME! I’m the queen of lack of confusion. Or something like that. The queen of . . . um . . . never mind, let me tell you some of the most exciting stuff. No longer will you have to capitalize the word “internet!” Did you hear that? I even said it without a capital letter.
Kat: That is such a time saver!!!
Lyn: And no more dumb hyphen in “email.”
Kat: Oh . . . I stopped that ages ago. But hey, is there any new rule that you felt happy they finally listened to you and made the change?
Lyn: I’d say getting rid of that hyphen and the capital “I” were more than enough to satisfy this gal. They even addressed the use of the plural “they” and “their” for singular stuff, but I’m still not keen on that. I’m sure I’ll get used to it. [Glares at the book, but only for a second.]
Kat: You have issues. I think it makes perfect sense to use “they” and “their” instead of he/she, or going back and forth too often between the two.
Lyn: I suppose you don’t want me to fan the pages so you can smell the new book smell, do you?
Kat: I was about to ask if you would . . . it might be the closest I get to it. You think the scent will upload any of the rules in my head?
Lyn: Definitely. It beats having to sleep with it under your pillow. [Fans pages front to back and then back to front. And then front to back again.]
Kat: Awesome. Hey, I had a question. Since all these books keep changing as the world progresses . . . or gets dumber, depending how you look at it, and none of them seem to agree on much and are based on preferences, why are they still so different? And why can’t they simplify things so years from now we won’t feel like idiots because we’ve used hyphens in “email” or capitalized the word “internet”?
Lyn: That’s an excellent question that I can actually answer. [Looks at CMOS for inspiration.] Something I’ve learned as I’ve mingled with my people, the editor-types, is that far from being the rigid taskmasters most people think we are, we are hyper-aware of language changes with each generation. It’s our job to know what’s new, when we should fight to keep it the same, and when we should chill the heck out and go with the flow. The goal of all the revisions—and it’s not just in CMOS, either . . . Merriam-Webster just announced a bunch of new words that are being added to the dictionary!! YAY!—ahem . . . the goal is to simplify the language and the process of editing it. Hopefully, each change makes things easier.
Kat: That’s all great from the perspective of editors, but again MLA, Chicago, and Associated Press are all different. I still think they should agree, for a couple of reasons. Naturally they’re all accepting the new changes “we, the people” are asking for. So why not make them more simple?
Lyn: I have to say I agree with you: why does everyone have to have their own style guide? Why can’t newspapers and novels agree on whether or not to have spaces before and after an em dash? Or when to spell out numbers and when to use numerals? There’s really no good reason for some of these to be different.
Kat: My other reason, which is also another question for you: isn’t it possible the fact that they have made these rules so darn complex is exactly what is holding the rest of the world back from actually understanding and carrying out simple punctuation, spelling, etc? Like, maybe we’d make the world a little smarter if they didn’t make it all feel like we were working on nuclear physics?
Lyn: I love the idea that there are people who would rise to the occasion if the rules were not complex, but I think we both know we’ve seen enough oopses that already should be simple. Some people may never get it. And that’s okay, because maybe they’re terrific at other stuff. Like . . . I’ll never be a nuclear physicist, but doggone it, I can tell you when that apostrophe needs to GO.
Kat: Okay, but maybe that’s exactly because the language and its rules are so freaking confusing that even the style books can’t agree. [Evil laugh.] But also, I’m asking this and yet I know the truth: editors want to keep their jobs and so . . . they are all in cahoots to keep things the way they are.
Lyn: [Looks around nervously.] I’m not sure why you would even think that. Because that’s ridiculous. How would we—I mean, they—even manage that kind of thing?
Kat: By doing exactly what we’re talking about. And when we think, “Hey! I finally understand the hyphen rules!” they go and change the freaking thing.
Anyway, going back to things we see people not getting right . . . one of the things that get me, and I’m annoyed the rules have changed to accommodate it (yes, I’m on editors’ side here), is turning “all right” to “alright.” Are there any new changes that have also annoyed you?
Lyn: I can’t stand “alright” and will always change it. Always. And Merriam-Webster now lists “literally” to include the figurative sense. Seriously? It literally now means virtually.
Kat: WHAT?!?! Oh, my goodness, I had no idea. But “literally” means literally! I don’t know why this is making me feel sad, but I do. [Starts drinking straight out of the carafe.]
Lyn: I know. Makes me sick. Sick, I say. [Cradles CMOS a little tighter.] If literal is not literal, I don’t even know what this world is about anymore. At least they’re still taking the stance that irregardless, though a “real” word, is not accepted and not recommended.
Kat: I don’t know what to do with myself with “literally.” It’s throwing me for a loop and I can’t remember for the life of me what my other question was for you. I LITERALLY forgot. Not figuratively. Pffft.
Lyn: I’m literally sad with you. I think we need more—oh . . . looks like the coffee is . . . um . . . well, I can make another pot.
Kat: Oh, do you have another pot to use? You need to get your own. So I wanted to know, now that I’ve practiced a 30-second meditation session, what do you feel about the way social media is destroying proper grammar? If you could pick one thing for them to get right, what would it be? For me, it would be “their,” “they’re,” and “there.”
Lyn: Uggghhh, social media. If any of my other, non-editing, non-writer friends are reading this, please believe me when I say yet again that I do not waste my time critiquing your posts. If you’re not paying me, I try to shut that part of my brain off. However, if I could choose just one thing for the average person to get correct, it would be YOUR and YOU’RE. I’m not sure why that bothers me more than any other stuff, but there is something in me that snaps and makes a terribly unflattering judgment on people who misuse it.
Kat: YESSS! That’s another one that bothers me. I do have to say, I don’t mean family and friends, really . . . I was thinking more of the memes and pictures with captions that go viral and things of that nature.
Lyn: And that bums me out so much. There are some memes that would be hilarious, but they have a misspelling or bad grammar, and I just can’t “like” or share them. It’s the principle of the thing.
Kat: And I’ll sneak this in again . . . are you sure these people who are making the memes are not getting them right BECAUSE all the style guides are purposely confusing them? [Grins.]
Lyn: I’m not entirely sure. But I am certain that between Webster’s, Oxford, Chicago, Associated Press, and MLA, they ALL know how to use “you’re” properly.
Kat: That I agree with. I do wonder if the complexity of a few things makes them give up on learning everything. But that’s not our problem because you know your stuff and I know some stuff and we’re good in the CMOS’s eyes.
Lyn: [Sighs happily while petting the book again.] Yeah . . . and besides, if everyone gets grammatically smart all of a sudden, I’m out of a job.
Kat: Aha! That’s the conspiracy I was hinting at earlier. I knew I was right. And on that note— because it’s always good to stop when you find proof you’re right—I want to thank you for having me over and for my new personal coffee pot.
Lyn: If you allow me to have the . . . your . . . coffee pot back for a bit, I’ll brew us a fresh pot. What do you say?
Kat: No, I’m good. At this point I think I’m starting to have heartburn from all the coffee, but thanks for offering. You should get a Keurig for when you want some for yourself, though.
Lyn: I guess I’ll have to.
You can find S.K. Anthony at her own site, S.K. Anthony, where you can read all about her current series, The Luminaries, and find their Amazon links.
at Writers After Dark, where you can find everything writer-oriented, from podcasts to resources to just plain fun.