Recently, the Content Bureau editorial team had one of our style check-ins. These occasional email flurries help us debate or clarify points of style—topics that I fear may seem arcane to anyone but a dedicated editor. E-mail or email? Anytime or any time (or, more precisely, which to use at which time)? And what about that new service offering from a longtime client? Is it branded and so capitalized, or just a garden-variety descriptor?
The issue here is not just that the English language is incredibly complex. It’s not just that inside every good editor roils a no-holds-barred cage match between her inner prescriptivist and descriptivist. (It’s not even that I am clearly in need of a new hobby.) It’s that the language is growing and changing – and an editor’s job is both to enforce consistency and to communicate clearly to a contemporary audience.
The issue in last week’s debate? The slash mark. I led with a rant about how often writers insert extra spaces around slashes – using and / or instead of and/or. Lucy (whom I forgive because she is half British) suggested that it might be acceptable to insert spaces when the mark separates two open compounds (credit card / debit card).
Reader, my inner prescriptivist responded with horror. I don’t care how the Brits do it; it’s just … wrong. Now you damn kids get offa my lawn!
Eventually I calmed down, released the armlock on my panting descriptivist, and turned toward the Internet.
The prescriptivist raises her arms in triumph.
But the winds of change are blowing. There seems to be a move toward acceptance of spaced slashes separating open compounds. Huh.
The descriptivist smiles smugly and offers the prescriptivist a good stiff drink, which they both enjoy immensely. The prescriptivist acknowledges that a living language is by nature an evolving thing, though she retains her right to grump about it.