Tis the season? No, it really isn't

Tis the season to be jolly, right? No, and it's not t'is the season, either. However, 'tis the season to be jolly, without a doubt.

OK, I concede that editors aren't often all that jolly to begin with, but only with the stipulation that we're often provoked. Language is a gift, and abusing it seems to be a national pastime. It could be attributed to the texting generation (IMHO, OMG), but that doesn't explain the handwritten letters that could cause an English teacher to switch to math.

Because 'tis also the season for giving, allow me to give you a few of my pet peccadilloes, provided over the years in various forms by everyone from letter writers and publicists to — yes, sadly — reporters and editors. (I should note that the rules provided here are from The Associated Press Stylebook; the faults referenced are from my memory, which at times has its own faults.)

Capitalization: Less is more when it comes to deciding which words to capitalize. Among the words that should be capitalized are proper nouns, proper names, composition titles (books, songs, plays, etc.) and formal titles used immediately before a name. There are many more examples, too many to list, but suffice to say that "Nature," "Peace" and "Marijuana" are not capitalization-worthy, regardless of how happy they make you feel. You may write, "President Donald Trump gave a speech," but remove the name (not suggesting anything in that), and it should be "the president gave a speech."

For those of you who feel compelled to email letters to the editor with WORDS SPELLED IN ALL CAPS, please don't. Some poor scribe gets the tedious duty of changing them to lower case. 

Quote marks: As evidenced above, commas and periods always go inside the quotation marks. Yes, we know the comma or period is not part of the title of a book or movie, but it nevertheless goes inside the quote mark when accompanying "Gone with the Wind."

Streets, highways, etc.: Street, avenue and boulevard are abbreviated when listing a numbered address (St., Ave. and Blvd.), but all other thoroughfares — road, highway and drive, for instance — are spelled out. All are spelled out when there's no specific address used. For instance, in writing 111 Main St., street is abbreviated, while a reference to Main Street is not.

Theater: A very specific issue, but relevant to our arts scene, it's spelled "theater," not "theatre." We won the Revolutionary War, so we get to spell it our own way. And we do not live in France. The rule is waived for proper names, i.e., Camelot Theatre — the founders of which apparently did not get word on the outcome of that conflict.

State names: Until recently, The Associated Press had its own list of abbreviations for most states — and just to be confusing, many of them were different from the Postal Service abbreviations. That's no more; now all state names are supposed to be spelled out unless the reference is a mailing address, in which case the post office rules apply. If you were curious, the eight states that previously didn't have abbreviations were Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah.

Its/it's, there/their: Don't even get me started.

OK, I'll stop, because I'm sure that by now I've created at least one grammatical and/or AP style error that will be pointed out to me. But please be polite; after all, 'tis the season.

— Bob Hunter is associate editor of the Mail Tribune. Reach him at bhunter@mailtribune.com.



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