British paper cuts American diplomats to size

And how a vast American conspiracy is undermining Indian English

The Guardian has launched an American edition. But it’ll use proper English spellings, not American ones. What’s more, it promises to cut American diplomats down to size, not by referring to them as foggy bottoms though.

Guardian America, the US edition of the British newspaper, won’t use American spellings and punctuation. What will make it a Guardian publication will be its adherence to the Guardian stylebook, a volume that since the 1920s has gone through several editions and revisions and which is available in bookshops and here on the Guardian’s website.

Valour, behaviour, realise and programme therefore will prevail over valor, behavior, realize and program. Nor will there be the serial comma – sometimes known, pretentiously, as the Oxford comma – which is familiar to many American publications. You’ve noticed I left out the comma after realise – that’s where the serial comma would have been placed. Gone is much italicisation – and the ‘z’ from many -isations. The Guardian is the Guardian, not The Guardian.

Perhaps most strikingly – and certainly most vexingly to Guardian America’s editor, who tells me he made his views clear to London, but with little success – a State Department official will have to live with the more flattened description of him- or herself as a state department official: the rule for capitalisation is to lower case when possible.

It’s the end of civilization, but civilisation, such as it is, will carry on. Not all Americans will welcome what they may consider this publication’s more relaxed style – a style the Guardian says is “neither pedantic nor wild”, and one that is not meant to be deferential to people in power, such as state department diplomats. [Guardian America]

On the matter of punctuation, spelling and style, thanks to American software, some ignorance and a general can’t-be-botheredness, English, as it is written in India is becoming terribly mixed up. We grow up with British spellings, and “zed”, but thanks to those red squiggly lines (surely, a CIA-instigated conspiracy to undermine the independence of our ‘foreign’ language policy) that arise from the default American English on computers, end up using American spellings. And “zee” became the last letter of our English alphabet thanks to software engineers and call centre workers serving American customers. (Many of us didn’t know why that channel was called Zee TV back when it started. Realisation dawned when the American professor broke down the vector into its “x”, “y” and “zee” components!)

Choice of spelling style shouldn’t matter for individuals, although it is good form to be consistent about it. What is entirely intolerable is when Indians refer to their states as “provinces” while explaining political geography to foreigners. This is about as wrong as referring to your brother as your uncle.

4 thoughts on “British paper cuts American diplomats to size”

  1. This Guardian America is doomed to failure, in my opinion, even if it is cater to the liberal elite. The Guardian style will rub many the wrong away.

  2. Ah the Guardian nonsense. It’s okay to have different spellings but American commas are eminently sensible and makes it more readable.

    “Valour, behaviour, realise and programme therefore will prevail over valor, behavior, realize and program.”

    There is a reason why there is comma after realise (or realize). In fact some complain there aren’t enough commas. (Robert Samuelson of WaPo has a column on it.)

    I supposed state department means a department in any state. And I sure it will be the white house – that one at the end of street which is painted white. There is nothing deferential about capitalizing – it’s about recognizing (should that be with a “s”)what one is talking about. Reference to foreign office and 10 Downing is the same.

    Regarding failure, Economist does pretty well – but it goes left or right depending on wind direction. May be the Guardian wants to steal NYT subscribers. But Guardian should know that even hard core NYT subscriber would care little about what English think, especially if they use the wrong language.

  3. And I sure it will be the white house – that one at the end of street which is painted white. There is nothing deferential about capitalizing – it’s about recognizing (should that be with a “s”)what one is talking about.

    If we’re talking about punctuation, the use of the em-dash or the en-dash as a replacement for the comma is not just ugly, it’s also wholly incorrect stylistically on either side of the Atlantic. Although I’m not sure about Indian English. 😉

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