Archive | December, 2017

Cut! Print!

24 Dec

The scene: Windsor Castle in the early 1960s, in the grip of a dramatised royal dispute about whether or not Prince Charles should go to chilly, remote Gordonstoun to toughen him up after primary school. At the height of the debate, the Duke of Edinburgh arrives at the castle in his elegant, powerful Lagonda (this isn’t just The Crown glamourising things for its Netflix audience: he really did have one).

Cut to: the aerodrome, where the Duke is going to use his own plane to fly Charles to Scotland (spoiler alert) for his first day at school. Father and son arrive to a media circus on the tarmac, flashbulbs popping, in the elegant, powerful Lagonda:

And then cut to: Gordonstoun, where the gates are swung open to welcome the Duke and Charles as they arrive in … er …  the elegant, powerful Lagonda, which would appear to have been either taken apart into very small pieces and loaded into the back of the plane, or have made the 550-mile journey from London to Scotland faster than the Duke of Edinburgh can fly. Never mind Santa’s sleigh: whichever royal aide caned it up the M1 at that speed needs to be given a job delivering presents.

I’ve always secretly fancied that, as a sub, I might be quite good at film continuity: keeping track of a timeline, checking for inconsistencies, remembering context, organising information: isn’t that what a copy desk does for a living? But in fact, I suspect, a continuity editor’s job is like editing an article by starting in the middle and being forced to read both forwards and backwards, only ever seeing one paragraph at a time, and relying only on your notes to remember which sentence comes after which. Makes deleting “’tis the season” and cutting down the Christmas gift guide to fit on half a page seem very easy by comparison.

So to editors of all types – from those rushing on set to remove a moustache from the male lead’s face to those with an excited political editor talking in one ear and an excited pre-press supervisor in the other – it’s time to say: happy Christmas, everyone. Here’s to another year of checking up on things.

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12 Dec

Go on then, pronounce this: forward slash; lower case regular “s”; lowercase regular “h”; lowercase italic “r”; lowercase italic “b”.

It appears that you say “shrub”; the company has named itself after the product it manufactures – a sweetened, flavoured vinegar syrup used as a base for non-alcoholic drinks during Prohibition. Neither the italics or the punctuation seem to make any difference to the sound of the word. But they would make a big difference to readability if you reproduced them in the middle of a printed sentence – and because the Tribune is the kind of paper that follows companies’ own preferences for nomenclature, in theory we’d have to.

But, as the late editor and author Bill Walsh once said, “punctuation is not decoration”. And /shrb may be the kind of extreme corporate branding – of the type he foresaw more than 10 years ago – that might require a firmer line from style guides in future.

Writing in his book The Elephants of Style, in 2004, he said:

This is a multifaceted issue, and although I remain a purist, I will admit that it presents some difficult decisions on where we, as editors, should  draw the line … To me, the asterisk in the name of the company that wants to be called E*TRADE is a stylised hyphen, the same as the funky old seal  in the [masthead] of the Arkansas Democrat-hyphen-Gazette.  So when I write about the internet brokerage, it’s E-Trade. I maintain that the asterisk is being used as decoration, not punctuation, and should be left out in the same way publications leave out … the Democrat-Gazette seal and other symbols that cannot be reproduced. But the asterisk is right there on the keyboard. Some would argue that that is where the line should be drawn, and I can’t say that’s a wholly unreasonable position.

It does present difficult decisions, and in fact even the Tribune allows itself a little leeway. Our style guide says:

Company names A difficult area, as so many companies have adopted unconventional typography and other devices that, in some cases, turn their names into logos. In general, we use the names that companies use themselves: c2c, Capgemini, easyJet, eBay, ebookers, iSoft Group, etc. Some of these look odd, particularly when used as the first word in a headline, although some are becoming more familiar with time.

Exceptions include Adidas (not adidas), ABN Amro (not ABN AMRO), BAE Systems (not BAE SYSTEMS), Toys R Us (do not attempt to turn the R backwards), Yahoo (no exclamation mark).

As Bill Walsh concludes, “you have to draw the line somewhere”. The truth is, we already do. And I think /shrb gives us a couple of  pointers as to where more clear lines could be drawn.

First: partial italicisation within a proper noun is almost certainly meaningless, and can be ignored. Variations of weight or face, although they can be reproduced on every setting system, are probably going to be baffling to the reader, if they notice them at all, and clearly fall into the category of design rather than syntax.

Second: names that begin with punctuation marks will have to be modified for publication. Perhaps we have become used to the sight of Yahoo!’s exclamation point in the middle of a sentence, but it does follow a well-known exclamatory word, and it does come at the end of the word, not the beginning. Having a punctuation mark at the start – especially a slash – is hugely distracting after a word space: there is no natural language I can think of in which a stroke would be expected in that position.  At the end of a sentence, it looks like an uncompiled HTML tag: /shrb. The slash can be reproduced using a standard keyboard, but it shouldn’t be.

Having said that, I’m still not sure what style we would ever end up adopting: Shrub? Shrb? shrb? Thank goodness we haven’t had to write about them yet.