Writers and editors have trusty friends in dictionaries and style guides. Several dictionaries are available although many are comfortable using the dictionary published by Webster. When it comes to style guides, two are in use, particularly in the United States, the Associated Press (AP) Style Guide and the Chicago Manual of Style (CMoS). The equivalent in the UK is Oxford Style Manual, which is also used in Australia and Canada.
These reference materials are important as they define the spelling and style that a writer should use, depending on the content that is to be written. For example, in the Webster’s dictionary, words such as sweatshirt, knuckleball and bloodbath are spelled as one word, which is the same as the AP Style.
However, Webster’s still lists Macau as Macao and adds the Macau spelling as a variant. It is confusing but the two spellings are acceptable. Macao was the original Portuguese spelling for their former territory. In the 20th century however, the official spelling was changed to Macau. Most English speakers prefer to use Macau because an –ao suffix is not common in the English language.
But AP says that ”offline” should be written as one word. The online version of the Merriam-Webster lists the term with a hyphen, i.e., ”off-line.”
These few examples show that the use of the English language is non-unilateral, which is due to various reasons.
Difference in styles guides
Each style guide has its own official dictionaries. The AP Style uses the 5th edition of the Webster’s New World College Dictionary, while Chicago Manual of Style uses the 11th edition of the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.
One of the most commonly debated usage is the comma. AP recommends that serial comma should be omitted while Chicago says it should be used.
AP – strawberries, grapes and oranges
Chicago – mangoes, bananas, and pineapples
To avoid confusion, note that writers for newspapers and magazines avoid using the serial comma. Book writers on the other hand use the serial comma. Chicago’s position is to always use it to avoid misreading while AP’s stand is to omit it unless it causes misreading.
Difference in styles and goals
The intentions of AP and Chicago are conflicting. AP Style Guide is the main reference for news writers and writers of PR articles and online content because it’s a space saver. As writers know, space in publications is limited. The Chicago Manual of Style is primarily used by authors, editors and publishers of journals, periodicals and books. AP is more concerned about the use of correct words, concept and places. It contains a combination of encyclopedia, thesaurus and dictionary. It provides a guide on how to use the right titles and meanings of acronyms.
Chicago Manual of Style is more detail oriented and has longer guidelines on publishing and technical elements of writing. It includes several pointers on using different punctuations and quoting references, quotes and sources correctly. It even has a section on how to express numbers and mathematics correctly.
In this context, the needs are shown to differ already.
The two styles also differ in goals and concerns, especially on layout, deadlines and compatibility.
Let’s start with layout. When you have online articles and newspaper columns, it is difficult to control the breaks at the end of the line of text. Magazine and book publishers on the other hand can make some adjustments in the soft returns, horizontal scaling, tracking and kerning. For example, when using an em dash instead of colons, parentheses or commas, the spaces around it causes it to break over two lines rather than bring the words before and after it into the next line of text. In magazine articles and other publications, the graphic designer can manually introduce a break after the dash and make adjustments so the text within a column can look better.
Another thing that highlights the difference between the two styles is the deadline. AP style works best for weeklies and dailies due to their constant deadline. It would be very difficult for the editors to contend with different style guides because they have to work quickly to meet their deadlines. On the other hand, book publishers have more time to check and edit the articles and play around with the presentation of the content, so the Chicago style suits them.
The last feature is compatibility across platforms. The AP style is simpler thus content, with all its punctuations, spaces and everything that the writer included could stay intact and travel correctly when sent electronically from the writer to editors to layout artists to publication.
Difference in spelling
Dictionaries and style guides also have different take on spelling of many words. It is often a source of confusion, particularly for new writers. Technically, it can also make work more difficult for translators.
The 5th edition of Webster’s New World College Dictionary (WNWCD5) says ”crayfish” but AP recommends using ”crawfish.” Crayfish is the main entry in the dictionary while crawfish is listed as a variant. The explanation in the AP Style Guide is that ”crawfish” is the preferred spelling used in Louisiana where the crustacean is quite popular.
When the dictionary offers a choice, writers often refer to a stylebook for the proper guidance. In cases like the above, the stylebook allows for consistency. Another example is the word ”canceled” that could also be spelled as ”cancelled.” Both spellings are in the WNWCD5, but it clarifies that canceled is the American spelling of the word. In some dictionaries, they say that ”cancelled” is used in British and Canadian English. In case you are wondering, both spellings are acceptable, even when you are using American English.
Dictionaries often list all the iterations of a word, and could either label a word as disputed or variant. Style guides often choose one spelling. In the case of the abbreviation of the word United States, the style guides recommend using U.S. instead of “US” to prevent others from interpreting it as ”us” in capital letters.
The American English language is full of variations and oddities that terrify learners. It has quite a number of words with two spelling. Some of the words differ in spelling due to their origins. At times, it is because of regional differences or the variants’ origins are not certain.
- Many people are confused when using ”judgement” and ”judgment” as well as ”acknowledgement” and ”acknowledgment.” While some people believe that the words with the ”e” included are wrong, many dictionaries consider any of the spelling as correct. However, the spelling without the ”e” is more commonly used.
- Take the word, archeology. The Society for American Archaeology says that using ”archeology” is also correct. The original spelling of the word is archælogy. But in the 1890s, the U.S. Government Printing Office changed its printing process and the gliding diphthong character was changed to ”e” resulting in the new spelling.
- Which should you use – amok, amuck or amock? The most used spelling is amok while amuck is also accepted. “Amock” on the other hand is a spelling variation that has been around since the 1700s.
- Mustache is generally accepted as an American English spelling while moustache is used in British English. Today however, both spellings are accepted in the United States.
- Originally, the spelling of the tasty fried batter with a hole is doughnut. However, the informal version, donut, has been accepted and is more commonly used in the U.S. after the 1950s, possibly because of the establishment in 1950 of Dunkin’ Donuts.
- Choosing among BBQ, barbeque or barbecue, and in some instances barb-b-q could lead to a long debate. The most accepted and common form today is barbecue although all the spelling variants are acceptable.
- If you refer to a person who counsels or gives advice, you either use ”advisor” or ”adviser.” It does not matter if you are using American or British English. Both spellings are correct and acceptable. Adviser is the older form but is the most used version. Modern users prefer ”advisor.” The ”adviser” variant is commonly used in Canada and the U.S. for official titles. Some people believe that adviser seems less formal than advisor, which carries a sense of formality.
Here are more examples, which show the difference in spelling between British and American English.
English also has homonyms or words spelled the same way and pronounced similarly but have different meanings. Examples are:
- Crane – could be a bird, a machine to lift heavy objects or stretch the neck to look at something
- Date – go out with someone at an agreed time or a sugary-sweet fruit
- Foil – something that provides contrast or a thin, shiny and flexible sheet metal used to wrap food
- Rose – could be a flower or the past tense of rise
- Type – could be printed characters or a specific kind of person or thing
The language also has homophones that have different spellings and meanings but similar pronunciation. Common examples are pail/pale, banned/band, bore/boar, course/coarse, fowl/foul, great/grate, inn/in, our/hour, blue/blew and eight/ate.
In English, some words are called homographs. These are words that are spelled similarly but the meanings and pronunciations are different. For example, a bass could be a fish, a low voice or a low-level musical instrument. Bow could be a ribbon interlaced creatively. It could be the act of bending one’s knees or body. Minute is part of an hour but it could also mean small.
Technically, many words in English have several meanings. A writer or translator (who is technically a writer as well) must carefully choose the words to use, based on context. To be an effective and good writer in English, it is important to choose which style guide to use, based on the definition of the AP and Chicago style guides.
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