Luckily, one woman—Buzzfeed's Emmy J Favilla—has produced oneby Sam Leith / December 14, 2017 / Leave a comment
Internet: capital I or lower-case I? Internet or internet? No doubt Prospect’s stylebook has a ruling on the subject. But it’s a matter of some pride for BuzzFeed’s copy chief Emmy J Favilla that back in 2012, when the Associate Press Stylebook and most other arbiters were still insisting on a capital I, she ruled that the word should be lower-case on the unimprovable grounds that “well, capitalising it looked weird.” Last year APS belatedly came round to her point of view.
Every style guide presents a set of rules and preferences—and those rules and preferences help to define a publication’s personality. Simon Heffer’s style guide for the Daily Telegraph, for instance, rules that “Christmas lunch is what most of our readers would eat, not Christmas dinner.” (Charles Moore’s previous style guide for the same publication, more inclusively, troubled to warn that writing that Leeds was “two hours away by train” would not be true for those of the paper’s readers who lived in Leeds.) BuzzFeed’s personality is millennial, internet-savvy and informal—and its style guide reflects that.
Favilla’s new book, A World Without “Whom”: The Essential Guide to Language in the BuzzFeed Age, is a discussion of how she arrived at her decisions, and how she sees the English language behaving online—which means that as well as ruling on the serial comma, she’s arbitrating on whether “butthole” should be hyphenated, why “Juggalo” deserves to be capitalised, the set responses to “updog” (“Nothing. What’s up with you?”) and the verbal usage of “Neville Longbottom.”
So here, presented in a style of yah-boo perkiness, is a dispatch from the frontline (or near to the frontline) of linguistic change. As has been widely remarked, the shift from print to digital media has accelerated changes in the norms of written vocabulary and style at a rate unprecedented in the history of the language. Print had more in the way of gatekeepers: the economics of the offline world meant that the most visible and far-travelling pieces of writing were likely to be books and newspapers, almost all of which had been edited and standardised according to one style guide or another. Anybody could write a zine, or circulate a samizdat document, but the high-prestige forms that influenced usage tended to be institutional products of one…