Fellow word geeks: Yes, it’s true, Canadian Press is releasing a new edition of Caps and Spelling, on April 25. (And you can win a copy – details below!)
This handy little guide to troublesome, confusable and oft-misspelled terms has been a fixture on editors’ desks across the country since the first edition came out in 1965. Each book is also a snapshot of the prevailing concerns of its day. That first slim volume (just 46 pages) contained some words rarely heard today, such as “H-bomb” and “Churchillesque.”
The 19th edition of Caps came out in 2009, and it’s overdue for an update. “It’s constantly evolving, and a lot of that evolution has taken place over the last couple of years,” says James McCarten, senior national editor at CP and the editor of both Caps and Spelling and Canadian Press Stylebook. “It’s a living thing, a constantly changing document, and we have to try to keep up with that.”
Please forgive the longish blog post, but I couldn’t resist including a condensed and edited version of my recent Q&A with McCarten.
JL: What’s new in the 20th edition of Caps and Spelling?
JM: There are constantly new terms cropping up that we want to reflect, either driven by general usage in the public domain or by the news. The best example, the most recent, is “fracking,” which is short for “hydraulic fracturing,” a term we expect to see more. Another would be “bitumen,” the proper word for material that’s coming out of the oil sands and will be in the Keystone XL pipeline. These are things we’ve been talking about in the past couple of years and have earned their way into the book. They’re also words people are misusing – people refer to what’s in the pipeline as “crude oil,” which is not true. Opponents of the pipeline would argue it’s “bitumen,” which is much more problematic to have in the environment. It’s a germane point, and it’s significant from the point of view of telling a story accurately and fairly.
There are dozens of additions. Some are almost procedural: names for new MPs elected to Parliament that are potentially problematic. The i-words: “iPad,” “iPhone” and others; we used to only have “iPod.” “Keystone XL.” “PlayBook.” There was a fairly significant name change in the military ranks last year when the government decided to reintroduce the “Royal”: “Royal Canadian Air Force” and “Royal Canadian Navy.” Those are historical terms – 1968 was the last time they were proper names, and the government has reinstated them. We added “Tea Party,” which came into vogue in the last few years in the U.S. Western University has asked to be known as “Western University” instead of “University of Western Ontario.” Everybody refers to it as “Western,” and they wanted it to be codified as that. “Wildrose,” which we’re hearing about right now because of the Alberta election. One term we used to get requests for a lot was “wind chill” – it’s absurd that it wasn’t in there, given that it’s a Canadian book! People were never sure if it’s one word or two. We have it in there as two words.
“Zipline.” And “ebook,” “e-reader,” “e-waste” – those are all new. And interestingly enough, they are frustratingly inconsistent. That’s an interesting example of a term that has evolved over time but you can’t really apply a consistent model to it. Some are just more common that others. “ebook” and “e-reader” – one is hyphenated and one isn’t. The evolution of these terms is that they always start as two words and become hyphenated terms, and as the terms become more and more accepted, the hyphen disappears. That reflects our perspective on “ebook” and “e-reader.” “ebook” has no hyphen, but “e-reader,” it’s kind of awkward without the hyphen, so it cries out for the dash to be there, so we kept that. You have to consider how these words look and sound when you write them down. “Economic action plan” is another term that’s been added. It’s a term the government likes to use to describe its economic strategy. We don’t like to cap terms like that, so it’s lowercase.
Are there any interesting celebrity or pop culture additions? Maybe Justin Bieber?
Part of the problem with celebrities is they’re fleeting. And I probably would get all kinds of rockets if I said that Justin Bieber isn’t going to be around forever! Maybe he’ll be a fixture for a long time, but you do have to be careful about creating these entries. You don’t want to add a bunch that you’ll just have to delete four years later.
What about deletions from the last edition?
We don’t track omissions or make them very often. We try to be careful with dropping terms – they’re usually in the book because someone’s had trouble with them. If they’re not making a lot of headlines, that doesn’t mean someone doesn’t need to refer to them. So we try to be more judicious about taking them out than putting them in.
How many terms are in Caps?
There are 4,420 current entries.
Caps and Stylebook are available online by subscription. Do you think there will be a time when you’ll stop printing the book?
Logically, I’d have to say yeah. I think cost is going to be an issue. It’s an evolving document, and the online tool is just so much more valuable in that respect than a static book. It’s also a searchable archive that allows you to punch in the word, and it can respond to different spellings of a particular term. So it’s just far easier to use, more effective and cheaper. That said, there’s always going to be a demand for a desktop version. Everybody loves that tactile experience of reaching for a book.
Have you thought of doing a mobile version?
Absolutely. And it’s a sort of newsroom resource issue. We’ve got a very small and very, very burdened IT department. Everything now is focused on reinventing the delivery system, the way we get our news to our readers, and the pace of change has been blinding in the past several years, and the IT department is racing to catch up. [Mobile] is definitely one area where we see some wonderful opportunities. AP is a really good example of a similar organization that has its own apps. Their stylebook app is very much a version of the online one. I definitely think that in the next few years, you’ll see [CP apps] emerge. It’s bound to happen – it’s just a question of when we can make it happen.
What does it mean to you to help shape these guides? I’ve always thought of words in Caps as being somewhat elevated, because they’ve been included.
It’s absolutely an honour and a privilege to be part of it. It’s my perfect, almost dream opportunity in a sense, because I’m particular about these sorts of things. I’m a style geek. The opportunity to make decisions on that score…I do it in consultation with colleagues and supervisors, and we probably don’t wring our hands about these decisions as much as we did in the old days because there just isn’t time, but…we take it seriously, and it’s very satisfying to have the opportunity to make things clearer for people – our staff, but our readers well. You get a lot of feedback from people who agree or disagree with your decisions. To see that level of engagement is gratifying, because in this day and age, it’s hard to know if these things are as important as you think they are, and to have that validation from colleagues on a regular basis is very satisfying.
Follow James McCarten on Twitter @CdnPressStyle “for occasional missives on the world of CP style.”
WIN A COPY of the new Caps and Spelling! I have two to give away, courtesy of editor James McCarten. Just leave a comment about Caps and Spelling below (deadline: Monday, April 30), and I’ll enter your name in a draw.