Help a Yank punctuate like a Brit.
December 10, 2009 1:36 PM   Subscribe

BritishPunctuationFilter: I'm an American editor preparing a author's manuscript that will soon be submited to a British publisher, and I have three exciting questions regarding dashes, hyphens, and apostrophes!

This project fell in my lap very suddenly, so I haven't been able to get my hands on the Oxford Style Guide in time, but I have a general sense of British punctuation and spelling (and have MS Word set to U.K. English!)... so I seem to have narrowed my questions down to the following:

1. Inclusive numbers: separated by a hyphen (1850-1915) or an en-dash (1850–1915)?

2. Compound adjectives for compass points: hyphenated (south-west quadrant) or closed (southwest quadrant)?

3. 1980's or 1980s?

Please note: I am looking for answers from other writers, editors, and/or general usage geeks who can say more or less definitively what would be used at a major British publishing house. I would prefer to avoid a long chatfilter conversation/guess-fest* about the general weirdness of British vs. American usage, or how hyphens are used in computer programming, or how you would do it on your blog. Thanks.

*Yeah, I don't know if that should be a hyphenated or closed compound either.
posted by scody to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My very recent experience with a major British publishing house is that you agree beforehand to a style (US or UK) and stick to it, while certain minor details are solved by intuition, but should be consistent throughout the manuscript. These rules may vary from house to house. Typically, one would ask for a publisher's style and submission guides before beginning the fine-tuning.
No comment about #1 and 2 (I know my preferences, but that's not what you're asking) As to #3, the apostrophe is wrong, no matter which side of the water.
posted by Namlit at 1:51 PM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oxford:

1. en-dash;
2. hyphenated (unless a proper name or compounded name for a wind, i.e. a northeaster);
3. No apostrophe.

The only one where you might find variance is compass points, and that more in journalism than book publishing, but even the Economist and Guardian keep the hyphens.
posted by holgate at 1:53 PM on December 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

And Namlit's right that there's usually a house stylebook, though as long as you're consistent, slight deviations should be easily rectifiable.
posted by holgate at 1:55 PM on December 10, 2009

Holgate's 1-2-3 agree with my experience, which is in writing for UK magazines rather than books.

There's definitely no shame in asking, though, so why guess yourself? Don't you have an editor? That's what he's for: you should be discussing this before submitting anything remotely finished.
posted by rokusan at 1:58 PM on December 10, 2009

Response by poster: holgate, thanks -- I leaned toward assuming that #1 and 3 were in sync with Chicago style, but I didn't know which way to lean for #2.

Don't you have an editor?

I'm not actually the author; I'm doing a quick freelance copy editing job for the author before he submits his manuscript, so I don't have any contact with the publisher.
posted by scody at 2:10 PM on December 10, 2009

Many places - for instance newspapers - have their own house style guides. I know that the FT and Economist do. The Economist Style Guide (available on amazon) is the one I have seen used most frequently in magazine publishing, probably because it's very well known.

I'm sure that if you use Oxford or the Economist's and it's all consistent it'll be fine.
posted by rhymer at 4:12 PM on December 10, 2009

Not sure if it's any use, but the Guardian's style guide is online.
posted by Helga-woo at 2:50 AM on December 11, 2009

The examples the OP gives here are usually covered by house style, but there are other differences and quirks between UK and US punctuation that may not be (one that immediately comes to mind is using a full stop *before* close quotes, which to my knowledge is always done in UK (and Irish) English unless the quote portion is just a snippet of a longer sentence).
posted by macdara at 5:04 AM on December 11, 2009

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