buffalo writing? I’m ready

Today, I gave myself a digital facsimile of the Chicago Manual of Style, First Edition. More correctly, I downloaded the pdf of Manual of Style: Being a Compilation of Rules in Force at the University of Chicago Press, To Which Are Appended Specimens of Types in Use (1906).

I don’t exactly know why—it was sort of the impulse-based decision that makes me come home from places with little mugs that say ‘IRELAND,’ or that makes me want to light a candle whenever I walk into a cathedral. Even if no reason for lighting a candles comes readily to mind.

Some things are special. They’re important. And this gesture somehow seems like it will signify that importance.

Actually, I know exactly why I downloaded a 104-year-old stylebook: because of The Subversive Copy Editor’s intriguing write-up of this historic book (and many thanks to them for the link to the book). Here’s the part of the post that grabbed me:

In the preface, the anonymous writers explain themselves:

  • Having its genesis, more than a decade ago, in a single sheet of fundamentals, jotted down at odd moments for the individual guidance of the first proofreader; added to from year to year, as opportunity would offer or new necessities arise; revised and re-revised as the scope of the work, and, it is hoped, the wisdom of the workers, increased, it emerges in its present form as the embodiment of traditions, the crystallization of usages, the blended product of the reflections of many minds.

If a no-nonsense approach is evident in today’s sixteenth edition, in 1906 the tone was downright bossy:

  • Do not follow copy blindly, unreasoningly. Proofreading machines are yet to be invented.
  • And as for authors, typographically they very often do not know what they want until they see it in type—and not always then.
  • Do not permit yourself to be stampeded.

Proof that copy editors have always been cynics realists since time immemorial. I’m not actually sure what the ‘Do not permit yourself to be stampeded’ bit is about, unless the author is a buffalo herd, which could happen in some universes, but I think I’m going to frame that on the wall of my office, when I get an office.

Heck, I’ll probably frame the whole book.

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4 thoughts on “buffalo writing? I’m ready

  1. I couldn’t resist popping in from The Hog’s Head, Mr Pond. So The Chicago Manual began as one page–today it’s big enough to stop the buffalo herd by itself! I’ve used mine occasionally for a doorstop and the door didn’t go anywhere.

    Which just goes to show that if rules can be made we will make them, even if it’s just to nail down the Law on serial commas.

    That said, the thing saved me while editing a buffalo herd of some truly convoluted material. Even bossiness was a blessing.

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