Whose Style is it anyway?

October 18, 2011

Update: Watch this event live on UChicagoLive on Tuesday night: http://www.facebook.com/uchicago?sk=app_191025314254993

One of the reasons that I enjoy acting as a co-producer for the Off-Air events is the constant education I receive by logistically maintaining live events about obscure stuff.

Before last year, I couldn't have told you the difference between House music and Hip-Hop.  Having sat in a room with some of the legendary creators of both (as interviewed by L-vis Lives author Kevin Coval) at last year's Winter Block Party, I am now "in the know."  Before two years ago, I would have never entered Chess Records and soaked in the history of Rock and Roll.  Thanks to Off-Air, I got the "inside skinny" and walked out a smarter guy.

And right now, I know little to nothing about The Chicago Manual of Style.  Sure, I write but I trained in college to be a trumpet player.  The only tome of note in that study was Calisthenics for Brass.

Knowing, however, that there is an entire subset of people here at WBEZ that carry around copies of this essential book, I found one to share with you her perspective on the subject.

My love of grammar and style started well before I cracked open a Chicago Manual of Style for the first time. I remember scoffing at some fellow third-grader trying to pay me a compliment: “You are a good read.” You bet I’m a good reader, kid. It’s often a lonely road, but for those of us whose control issues bleed into the written word, few things are as satisfying as the Chicago Manual of Style. I’m right, you’re wrong, and a book with the heft of a Bible is not to be argued with.

I purchased my first Manual for a class that I took in graduate school, called simply “Editing.” My big orange book and I became very close that quarter, as classmates and I listened in awe to a teacher so meticulous in every detail, he once stopped class to ask me to stop eating Cheez-Its in the back row (he found it very distracting). This same teacher once brought us an example he’d heard on public radio, a ridiculously compound sentence that the anchor had stumbled over. “If this sentence had been properly punctuated, it would have been properly read.” (I’m still not sure if it was a local host, or a national one, guys.)

This class allowed me to fully develop my need for the serial comma, a piece of punctuation phased out by AP style, but in my mind still very necessary. When I list X, Y, and Z, it’s important to me that my readers don’t have to spend any time worrying about whether item Y and item Z are separate, or if they are in fact one item, Y and Z. Or take the hyphen—most people would rather not, but hyphens can mean the difference between a three-year-old child and three year-old children. My personal copy of the manual has the scribblings of a madwoman all over it: underlines, special notations, stars, pages of notes hidden in the back. Microsoft Word even wanted me to change “scribblings” to scribbling’s, but thanks to my Manual, I know that I can’t interchange an apostrophe for a plural.

And now, I can’t imagine a working life without my Chicago Manual. Though hired to assist the Underwriting team here at Chicago Public Media, my mania for grammar has spread throughout the station, and a week doesn’t go by without some document to look over. In addition to my original personal satisfaction at sheer correctness, I take my de facto role as copyeditor seriously. I know that we have an amazing community of listeners and supporters who are intelligent readers. I love to make sure that any communications leaving this office are as clear as they can be. Because in the end, that’s what it’s all about. It’s not about being right, or following rules (much as I love both). Language is a living, breathing being that changes every day, and the Chicago Manual of Style enhances our exploration and understanding of these cultural changes.

- Beth Maggard

 

Thank you, Beth.

And now I will never interchange an apostrophe for a plural.

Not true.  I will probably do it often.  But not after the November Off-Air event because I'm pretty sure I can buy a copy at the reception.  Or at least a tee-shirt with "The Chicago Manual of Style" on it.

If you are a complete Chicago Manual of Style affecianado, you can join the UC Photo Contest "Show Us Your Style!"

If you, like Beth, feel a great passion for the specificity laid out in the Manual OR if, like me, are just in for absorbing as much information about as many topics as there are ideas in the world, you could do far worse than pop $12.00 (if you are a WBEZ member) and catch

 

The Chicago Manual: More than a Century of Style

Tuesday, November 8 2011 @ 7:00pm
University of Chicago - International House

You can snag tickets here.