Stylebook Entries I Have Loved

English: A standard USB connector.

English: A standard USB connector. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Abbreviations. [stuff deleted] Ordinarily use periods in abbreviations when the letters stand for separate words: F.C.C.; I.B.M.; N.R.A. …In an acronym — an abbreviation pronounced as a word — omit periods. Ordinarily uppercase such an expression if it is up to four letters long: NATO; CUNY; AIDS; SALT. Acronyms of five or more letters are upper-and-lowercased: Unicef; Unesco; Alcoa; Awacs. …Omit periods in certain technology terms for which the full expression is unfamiliar or rarely used: USB, PDF, URL, DSL.

charge. [stuff deleted] In an account of an arrest or a criminal proceeding, charge ideally means the formal allegation submitted to a court by a prosecutor or (in the case of an indictment for a serious crime) by a grand jury. At a minimum, charge may refer to the official allegation lodged by the police at the time of booking. But the informal, usually imprecise account given at the scene of a crime is not a charge. Thus: The police accused Mr. Kuzu of having thrown a brick through the supermarket window and having threatened the manager with a pistol.

conditional tenses. When a sentence expresses the dependence of one event on another, convey the two ideas in verb tenses that work together — always matched, never mixed:

      If Governor Agnello runs, Mr. Karitsa will be on her ticket. (An if clause in the present tense; a then clause in the future tense.)
      If Mr. Karitsa refused the job, Dr. Arniotis would get it. (An if clause in the past tense; a then clause in the conditional tense.)
    If Dr. Arniotis had wanted the job, he would have said so. (An if clause in the past perfect tense; a then clause in the conditional perfect.)
A picture of an old Cracker Jack box

A picture of an old Cracker Jack box (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

crackerjack is slang for excellent or outstanding. Cracker Jack is the trademark for glazed popcorn.

dash. The dash is often misused for the comma: Pat — who was badly hurt last year — was pronounced fit today. And it is often overused. A sentence with more than two dashes is confusing because a reader cannot distinguish between the asides and the main narrative.

dialect. The writer should consult an editor, and both should hesitate, before trying to render dialect in direct quotations. [stuff deleted] Usually the decision should be that word order and turns of phrase paint a clearer picture than eccentric spelling. A classic Times article captured the Lower East Side of Manhattan when it quoted an onlooker, spelling intact, about the inevitable hot dog vendor at a political campaign appearance: “Sure. For Rockefeller he gives discounts.”

gild the lily is an accepted phrase for overembellishment, but writers who wish to delight the exacting reader will use Shakespeare’s actual words, from “King John”: “To gild refined gold, to paint the lily.”

hoi polloi is Greek for the many, meaning the masses (and not, as sometimes supposed, for the elite). Do not precede the phrase with a redundant the. And unless the intent is unmistakably ironic, avoid the expression as patronizing.

hopefully. In the sense of let us hope, this adverb inflames passions. Widely heard in speech, it is also approved by most dictionaries and usage manuals, in sentences likeHopefully, Congress will pass the law. Grammarians equate that usage to universally accepted constructions with frankly and mercifully. But traditionalists insist that hopefully can be used only to mean in a hopeful manner, as in The ambassador sought hopefully for an agreement. In surveys of skillful writers and teachers, large majorities cling to the restriction. So writers and editors unwilling to irritate readers would be wise to write they hope or with luck. With luck, writers and editors will avoid wooden alternatives like it is hoped or one hopes.

kipa, the Hebrew word for skullcap, is increasingly used by American Jews in place of the Yiddish yarmulke. In print, skullcap is often preferable because it is universally understood.

lectern, podium. A speaker stands at or behind a lectern and on a podium.

The Chandos portrait, artist and authenticity unconfirmed. National Portrait Gallery, London. (Credit: Wikipedia)

manner born. The quotation, from “Hamlet,” is to the manner born, not the manor.

more honored in the breach. The passage more honored in the breach than the observance, from “Hamlet,” refers to a custom that is more honorably ignored than followed — not one that is more often ignored.

participles as nouns. Beware of a present participle (the ing form of a verb) when it directly follows a noun or a pronoun. Look twice at the meaning of the phrase, because the participle often plays the role of a noun in such a sentence. And when that happens, the previous word should be possessive (his, her, their, Ms. Lamm’s).

personal names and nicknames. [stuff deleted] An exception may be made for organized-crime figures, whose nicknames are customarily shown this way: Leslie (Racko) Lamm. Note that this style means the bearer is popularly called Racko Lamm. If the surname is not spoken as part of the nickname, do not use the parenthetical style, which would be misleading. In other words, if Toby Agneau is known simply as Toby the Nose, do not write Toby (the Nose) Agneau. And since the style clearly implies unsavory ties, use these nicknames only when such ties are well established.

Tontons Macoute. The Haitian Creole name (always plural) for a militia that terrorized the population under the Duvalier dictatorship is still sometimes applied to similar gangs. The name, from the singular Uncle Knapsack, alludes to the boogeyman of folklore.

sweatshirt, sweatsuit. But: sweat pants.

whiskey, whisky. Use whiskey (and whiskeys) as a general term for liquors distilled from a mash of grain, and in specific references to the Irish and American versions. Use whisky (and whiskies) in specific references to Scotch and Canadian varieties. Also see alcoholic beverages.

Wiffle Ball

Wiffle is a trademark for plastic balls and bats. But whiffle ball is a generic term for the equipment and the game played with it.

zeitgeist. When it appears in an English phrase, lowercase the German noun meaning “spirit of the age.” Still better, resist it, as pretentious.