A Rosemary Sutcliff Style Guide?

Rosemary Sutcliff was my personal ‘style guide’ when she was alive. (She would have been 90 years old last week). I remember her berating me frequently for a far too ready use of commas, let alone for contorted sentences like this …

For many years since her death in 1992  I have used The Guardian Style Guide. I started to read it today at ‘A’, thinking about entries that might have overlapped with a Rosemary Sutcliff Style Guide. Thus, extracted from many entries under the letter ‘A’ in the Guardian guide:

  • abbeys are, like cathedrals, with capitals: Westminster Abbey, Canterbury Cathedral, etc
  • abscess
  • achilles heel
  • AD, BC: AD goes before the date (AD64), BC goes after (300BC); both go after the century, eg second century AD, fourth century BC
  • adviser not advisor
  • affect/effect: exhortations in the style guide had no effect (noun) on the number of mistakes; the level of mistakes was not affected (verb) by exhortations in the style guide; we hope to effect (verb) a change in this
  • aide-de-camp , plural aides-de-camp (aide is a noun)
  • Alcott, Louisa May (1832-88) American author of Little Women
  • Allah: Arabic for “the God”. Both words refer to the same concept: there is no major difference between God in the Old Testament and Allah in Islam. Therefore it makes sense to talk about “God” in an Islamic context and to use “Allah” in quotations or for literary effect
  • Allahu Akbar “God is greatest”
  • all mouth and trousers not “all mouth and no trousers”
  • all right is right; alright is not all right
  • amid not amidst
  • among not amongst
  • among or between? Contrary to popular myth, between is not limited to two parties. It is appropriate when the relationship is essentially reciprocal: fighting between the many peoples of Yugoslavia, treaties between European countries. Among belongs to distributive relationships: shared among, etc
  • amount or number? Amount refers to a quantity, number to something that can be counted, eg an enormous amount of energy was exerted by a small number of people
  • ancestors precede descendants; we frequently manage to get them the wrong way round
  • anticipate: take action in expectation of; not synonymous with expect
  • apostrophes indicate a missing letter or letters (can’t, we’d) or a possessive (David’s book).

– Some shops use an apostrophe, wrongly, to indicate a plural (“pea’s”), but will generally omit the apostrophe when one is actually required (“new seasons asparagus”), a phenomenon sometimes referred to as the greengrocer’s (or grocer’s) apostrophe. Try to avoid this.
– Contractions can affect the tone of a piece and make it appear informal and even inelegant: “what’s more” may work in a lighthearted column but “what is more” may be more appropriate for a leading article.
– Words ending in -s use use -s’s (Dickens’s house): for plurals, use -s’. Plural nouns that do not end in S take an apostrophe and S in the possessive: children’s games, old folk’s home, people’s republic etc.
– Phrases such as butcher’s knife, collector’s item, cow’s milk, goat’s cheese, pig’s blood, hangman’s noose, writer’s cramp etc are treated as singular.
– Use apostrophes in phrases such as two days’ time, 12 years’ imprisonment and six weeks’ holiday, where the time period (two days) modifies a noun (time), but not in nine months pregnant or three weeks old, where the time period is adverbial (modifying an adjective such as pregnant or old) – if in doubt, test with a singular such as one day’s time, one month pregnant.
– Finally, if anyone tries to tell you that apostrophes don’t matter and we’d be better off without them, consider these four phrases, each of which means something different:

my sister’s friend’s investments
my sisters’ friends’ investments
my sisters’ friend’s investments
my sister’s friends’ investments

  • appraise : to evaluate
  • apprise: to inform
  • archery: arrows are shot, rather than fired; and if they hit the centre of the target, it is a gold rather than a bullseye
  • as or since? “as” is causal: I cannot check the online style guide as the connection is down; “since” is temporal: Luckily, I have had the stylebook on my desk since it was published
  • auger used to make holes
  • augur predict or presage
  • axing not axeing, but cutting jobs is less cliched than axing them
  • axis plural axes

Source: Full Guardian Style Guide

Author: Anthony Lawton

Chair, Sussex Dolphin, family company which looks after the work of eminent children’s & historical fiction author Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-92). Formerly CEO, chair & trustee of various charity, cultural & educational enterprises in UK.

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