Day 18: New Oxford Style Manual


I bought this book to add to my collection of style manuals that now take up an entire shelf in my office. I edited a manuscript for submission to a UK publisher and so it had to follow UK style. And it worked! John Hockney’s memoir is to be published later this year by Legend Press in the UK, who are also publishing Mark Brandi‘s new novel, and have just released Into the River (Wimmera in Australia.)

Why would an editor want more than one style manual? Surely good style is just that? Not really. There are so many variations that are not ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but rather are choices. Your publisher and your reader want to see consistency. When it comes to word endings, for example, -ise and -ize are both correct, and both are used in UK English (although generally not in Australia). The Australian Style Manual will direct you use -ise;  Oxford stipulates -ize.

Two guides in one

You get two guides in this lovely chunky book: a style guide and a dictionary. The Oxford Style Manual is based on Hart’s Rules for Compositors and Readers at the University Press, Oxford, first published in 1893. New Hart’s Rules makes up the first half of the book, and is aimed at writers, editors, self-publishers, digital publishers and anybody who has to present professional-looking papers, reports, essays and the like. Want to know how to handle footnotes and endnotes? There’s an entire chapter to guide you to getting it absolutely right. Wondering how the US and UK spellings differ and which you should use? Your answer is in the first section of this easy-to use reference.

Part II

Part II of the book is the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors. It’s specifically designed for those who work with words and generally guides you on anything tricky. ‘Driftwood’ is one word, but ‘drift ice’ and ‘drift net’ are preferred. Per cent or percent, or just %: which to use? I can check this in the dictionary in seconds.

The Appendices are a useful bonus, covering the Greek alphabet, mathematical symbols, diacritics and accents and chemical elements, as well as Presidents of the USA and Prime Ministers of Great Britain and of the UK.

Find it online

There’s even an online version of New Hart’s Rules that you can access for free, along with a thesaurus and bilingual dictionaries, writing help, grammar tips and a whole lot more.

Day 7: The Devil’s Dictionary

By Ambrose Bierce



Dictionary, n. A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic. This dictionary, however, is a most useful work.

I have a collection of books with ridiculous titles (Microwave Cooking for One being the saddest) and had to add this when I found it at a garage sale. This edition is from 1958, but he original was published in 1911. It’s obvious that an editor needs a dictionary or seven, but I didn’t know I needed Lucifer’s version.

The Devil’s Dictionary grew ever more fascinating once I got past the title. Ambrose Bierce was a writer, journalist and literary critic who set off for Mexico in 1931, aged 71, and was never seen again. Rumour has it he joined up with rebel troops in the Mexican Civil War. He influenced Ernest Hemingway and worked with Randolph Hearst. Kurt Vonnegut called his short story, ‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge‘, ‘the greatest American short story’.

The satire is biting and clever. Not laugh-out-loud funny, but the kind of humour that makes you snort inwardly at its brilliance and then wish you’d thought of that. We need a Devil’s Dictionary for these times. Or anything, in fact, to make us laugh. It seems that literature is overwhelmingly about trauma and misery at the moment. Bring on a good satirical novel or memoir!

If you know of one, please pass it on in the comments section.

Day 5: The (Mellifluous) Book of Hard Words

by David Bramwell



Mel-IF-floo-us: (of sounds) sweetly smooth. Literally means ‘flows like honey’. From the Latin.

I bought this one on a discount table in a shopping mall, to read on the train. Surely I could learn all four words I didn’t already know before my journey’s end? Truthfully, at least half of the words were new to me. And even for those I knew, reading about their etymology and examining the diagrams explaining where each word originated was interesting enough to ensured I missed my stop.

The book has one word per page, plenty of visuals, and is graded into hard, harder and hardest words. It’s certainly no substitute for a good dictionary. In truth, I can only imagine using most of these words satirically. In my everyday writing I’m more likely to say ‘Bruce Springsteen has a perfectly formed rear’ than ‘The Boss is callipygian’ (from the Greek kallos (beautiful) plus pyge (buttocks)). If a client describes their novel’s main character as orthostatic, I might gently suggest ‘upright’ or ‘standing tall’ would resonate better with their readers.

The Book of Hard Words is perfect for dipping into; for those moments when you should be working but you’re ‘doing research’,  and for when your internet is down. Or for when you are on a transpontine hibernacle.

Today is Dictionary Day!

Today, 16 October, is Dictionary Day. The date honours Noah Webster, who created the first American dictionary in 1829.  (So I probably should have spelled that ‘honors’.)

Graminaceous: one who devours grammar?

Dictionaries are a vital tool for writers and editors. And they can be heaps of fun for anybody who has the slightest interest in words. Recently I read The Word Detective by John Simpson, who was the chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary.  It combines a memoir of his time at the dictionary – which included the move to online – with fascinating historical asides about the history of words in English.  Did you know that balderdash was probably first a foamy drink with its origins in Scandinavia?  Or that we have 97 words for hell?

If entering an eternal hell seems better than reading  a 360-page tome on dictionaries, try celebrating dictionary day like this:

Open your favourite dictionary at random and pick a word you have never read or used before.  Now vow to use it before midnight.

Mine is lacustrine: referring or relating to lakes.

If you don’t like this game, go take a lacustrine leap.