Wednesday, 17 October 2012

A Humble Style Manual from the end of the Typewriter Era

I've given myself a quite undeserved break from writing this little blog. I'd barely started and then I took off into the never-never and didn't touch the thing for more than a week. Throughout that time I was looking out for something to write about. There was the option of the post on the excitement (at first I didn't think it was that sarcastic, but later on I did) of opening a brand new typewriter ribbon (I'm lucky enough to be able to get them locally), there was the idea of discussing carriage return levers, there was the idea of discussing the fact that the desk really is a shrine to the self - this post is still in the works - but finally I came to this, today.
Today I was walking past the high school library. A little room, five computers in the middle and lined from floor to ceiling with books. It's the sort of library where talking is quite acceptable, and shouting is quite normal. As I was heading past, I wasn't even going to go in, the librarian, who also doubles as our English teacher, poked her head out of the door and asked a question it is impossible to say no to.
"Would you like an old, free book?"
Of course I would, so in I go. It turns out to be a 1988 copy of the Australian Style Manual.
Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers: Fourth Edition, as its full title reads, is something that I've been coveting for some time. No, I tell a lie. I've been coveting the current edition, but I wasn't going to turn down a slightly antiquated copy, was I?


It's the sort of book that not many 14 year old high school students would want; they wouldn't be interested in Chapter Four: an entire chapter dedicated to the use of italics. They wouldn't dabble in the appendixes. In short they would find the whole thing really, quite truly, boring. But not I. I think it is one of the most interesting little books I own.
I already have a copy of Fowler's Modern English Usage from 1965, but this isn't really a style guide. It's a collection of Fowler's own musings on the finer points of English. There are entries titled "Wardour Street" and "Polysyllabic Humour" - despite being very good it is a bit all over the place. This is why I was excited to receive a copy of a the Style Manual. Something a bit easier to use. But what excited me more, the more I went through it and discovered more about commas than I will ever need to know, is that it was published just at the end of the age of the typewriter.
Anything to do with typewriters automatically gets me interested, that's a fact. So when I saw that there were mentions of the typewriter, however brief, I was even more interested.
It's always interesting to see how the typewriter was used in its glory days. It's all good and well finding out how we are using them now, but to see how they were used then? That's what I like to read about. It's the way that you used them, too. How to set out a letter, how to prepare a manuscript (article 13.5 if you're interested). The culture around them, a culture that, I suppose, we're, here in the Typosphere, evolving and continuing.

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