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Thread: Style Guide of The Economist

  1. #1
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    Arrow Style Guide of The Economist



    Check the style guide of the Economist, and tell me what you think.

    I agree on most points. I try to avoid metaphors and slang, cut the unnecessary words, use short words when available (despite my natural tendency to overuse Latin words, as a French speaker)... I also dislike abusive usages of some "vogue words".

    I am glad that they disapprove of nonsensical expressions (usually due to US political correctness) like hearing-impaired for deaf, or humankind for humanity.

    I thought that using quotes was required in a sentence like : I would rather use "present" instead of "gift". Apparently not. They don't and advise not to. It is contrary to what I learnt at school. I am still in two minds as to which to use. I think it is easier to read with quotes when comparing or citing single words.

    It helped me notice that I too often have a lecturing or didactic tone. I often use words like "compare", "consider, "note", "remember"... That's just how my mind works.

    I am conscious of my overuse of some adverbs like most(ly), almost, probably, maybe, should, could, etc. I find it hard to help it because of my extreme reluctance to make non-relative statements when they are relative.

    I am also very fond of brackets to add explanations when I am not sure whether my reader know what I mean. Writing on the Internet, this has been replaced by links to Wikipedia or any other relevant page (what a blessing !).



    There are a few things I do not understand in the guidelines.

    In the Americanism section, they advise to use "district" instead of "neighbourhood". For me, they are not synonymous. A district is bigger than a neighbourhood. For instance, Paris has 20 districts (or arrondissements) and Tokyo 23, but each has hundreds of neighbourhoods. A district is usually an administrative or political divsion. A neighbourhood never.

    I disagree that cricket is a game and not a sport. Petanque and bowling are games, but if cricket is not a sport, then baseball or badminton aren't either.

    I prefer British words, but there are a few Americanisms which I have come to prefer over their British counterparts. For example I use train station (not railway station), rent a car (not hire a car), or corn instead of maize (but I never use corn to mean cereal, so as to avoid confusions).

    I say public transports, but transportation (in general, as in a guidebook section).

    They say : "Scenarios are best kept for the theatre, postures for the gym, parameters for the parabola." I don't see why. Even in Romance languages they are used in other contexts. Maybe the Brits have given them more restricted meanings that they should have.

    Likewise, they say : "Try not to verb nouns or to adjective them. So do not access files, haemorrhage red ink (haemorrhage is a noun), let one event impact another, author books (still less co-author them), critique style sheets, host parties, pressure colleagues (press will do), progress reports, trial programmes or loan money." Why not ? That's one of the great thing about the flexibility of the English language.

    I don't see why "take part in" is so much better than "participate in", "relations" is prettier than "relationship", or why we should prefer "way of life" over "lifestyle". This advice is really too personal. Personally, I use relations in a business and political context, between companies, organisations or countries (e.g. the relations between Britain and Iran), but relationship for inter-personal ones (e.g. the relationship between Blair and Bush).

    Why should we use "places" instead "venues". Venue sounds more appropriate in the case of parties or events.

    They advise to avoid jargon or difficult words, but later ask to use a word like "plutocrat" rather than "millionaire".

    Why can't we write "amidst" or "hiccough" (I thought that "hiccup" was the American spelling) ?

    They prefer to use "telephone" over "phone", something I just cannot agree with, especially as a verb. Likewise, they say that the usage of "photo" is not permissible, and we should use "photograph". I hate to say or write "telephone" or "photograph" in full. It sounds so old-fashioned.

    They ask twice not to use "per capita" but "per person" instead, but the former is too technical. That's weird because I always see "per capita" in statistics, not "per person". On the other hand, they don't think that words like etiolate, inchoate, percolate, prevaricate or wrack are too difficult to be used. Go figure !

    Finally, they say : "Put the accents and cedillas on French names and words, umlauts on German ones, accents and tildes on Spanish ones, and accents, cedillas and tildes on Portuguese ones: Françoise de Panafieu, Wolfgang Schäuble, Federico Peña. Leave the accents off other foreign names." Why leave the accents off other foreign names ? That's discrimination. Why could Mr Müller from Germany get his umlaut, but not Mr Jörgensson from Sweden or Mr Gül from Turkey ?

    So good advice overall, but not fool proof.

    They should also revise their Japanese. Nikkei is not the abbreviation for Nikon Keizai, but Nihon Keizai (I doubt it is a typing mistake, as there are two k's in Nikkei, which may had misled the writer, not knowing Japanese grammar).
    Last edited by Maciamo; 02-09-07 at 23:57.
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  2. #2
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    Both you and the style guide make some good points. Personally I don't like it when people make their language in a business context unnecessarily complicated either out of habit (without really thinking of the meaning) or deliberately to confuse people or to try and make themselves look cleverer... on the other hand there is a kind of backlash against 'business-speak' which tends to demonise the use of certain words, which I don't like either... because all words have their meaning, and the time and place in which it makes sense to use them.

    "Try not to verb nouns or to adjective them. So do not access files, haemorrhage red ink (haemorrhage is a noun), let one event impact another, author books (still less co-author them), critique style sheets, host parties, pressure colleagues (press will do), progress reports, trial programmes or loan money."
    I read somewhere, "Avoid using the word 'impacted' unless you are describing wisdom teeth" which is something I have tried to stick to, but otherwise I agree with your point - I don't see why it's not okay to use language in this way... except I would say "pressurise" instead of "press" (if you're talking about trying to get people to do something)...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kinsao View Post
    I agree with your point - I don't see why it's not okay to use language in this way... except I would say "pressurise" instead of "press" (if you're talking about trying to get people to do something)...
    I normally say "put pressure on [someone]". I feel that "to press someone" is less strong. I use it when asking something insistently (like a child pestering). "Putting pressure" implies a higher level of stress and possibly serious consequences if the person does not do what they are asked to do.

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    Maybe 'pressurise' is more of an Americanism, then.
    I tend to say 'press' in a more informal situation such as 'are we going to press them for the papers?' (meaning the same as 'put pressure on', really), but if I was writing for a formal report I probably wouldn't use it (but say 'put pressure on' or 'pressurise' instead).

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