Tag Archives: grammar

Muphry’s Law

A few people I know publicly call attention to the errors in others’ written communication. They get pretty judgmental about it, too. The big offense could be the the wrong they’re, or the use of a greengrocer’s apostrophe. One person even went so far as to declare after stating the offending error, “I didn’t know you were that kind of a person.”

Then almost without skipping a beat, they’ll begin a sentence “Me and Robert…” or have some subject-verb agreement issues in their writing.

“You’re judged by your writing!” they remind us. Indeed. Yet there are plenty of people who know the language but don’t seize every opportunity to hold an error over somebody else’s head. We commonly make them ourselves—because nobody’s perfect.

Consider Muphry’s Law, a term coined by an Australian editor. The law acknowledges if you are pointing out someone’s written errors, you too will make an error in doing so. The stronger the sentiment, the greater the fault.

Of course we should be striving for great English. Above that though, shouldn’t we also be striving to be great people? And great people, I think, don’t need to vehemently condescend to those who have made an error.


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Midwestern Bible: Preachin’ the Chicago Manual of Style

Senseless bickering is one of my least favorite things to be around. And in the MPub program, if there was one way to guarantee a testy exchange, it was to insert an Oxford comma into a group project document. Even if you were the designated copy editor, other group members would alter the source document to reflect your changes, and varying personal styles within the group would soon come to a head. A heated five minute discussion could be born out of whether the word is free mason, free-mason, or freemason. (Bonus point if you noticed the Oxford comma in that list!)

It’s not like that in the real world though, right? RIGHT?

Sadly, I’ve encountered institutions saying that they generally adhere to a widely-accepted style (usually Chicago Manual of Style or AP Stylebook), when practice may indicate otherwise. Unless they have a written style sheet of their own, or at minimum can explain what their rules are to you, it becomes very difficult to edit copy for consistent style. Then there are the places where different departments use different standards and don’t talk to each other about it…!

Perhaps the bickering wasn’t so bad. At least that meant that people were informed and truly cared.

As you may be able to tell by the photo, my preferred house style is Chicago. Since 2003 I’ve spent a good deal of time working with the book and familiarizing myself with the details of their approach. One example: researching various approaches to how minority groups are named (African Americans? African-Americans? Afro-Americans? Blacks?) for the curator of a high-profile, potentially controversial museum. Chicago’s goal is academic clarity—a goal I can get behind—whereas AP style was born of a desire to save space and use less newsprint.

After spilling blood, sweat, and tears familiarizing myself, I’ve become pretty passionate about the Chicago Manual of Style. Thus, my pet name: “Midwestern Bible.”

So what do you think happened when I recently saw an early edition of Chicago, titled A Manual of Style with Specimens of Type, at a Missoula thrift store?

I gasped. I snatched. I read the tag. A green tag—that means it’s 50% off today! Meaning this baby’s only…$1.50!

Now, I already have far too many books. On this day, I justified the purchase by telling myself I knew plenty of other people who would be wild about getting this as a gift if I decided to part ways with it. And yet here I am, taking photos of this early edition of Chicago to make it look like it has a halo. Here’s a photo of the stylized bookplate in the front. And here’s one of the many pages of type specimens. And the original purchase information. And a page of University of Chicago Press seals! It’s a gorgeous book—being the grandfather of my well-loved reference book makes it even sweeter.

Something tells me I won’t be getting rid of this one for a while.


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