Non-Fiction Reviews

New Oxford Style Manual

(2012) Oxford University Press, pbk, 25 / US$55, xiii +861pp, ISBN 978-0-199-60338-1


Few of this site's visitors are likely to be copy editors. However a small but reasonable number are likely to write short stories and some, even, may end up producing novels. Even more given SF2 Concatenation is a site for scientists into SF are likely to write science papers and/or popular science articles for magazines and (more likely still) learned society or trade publications. If you are one of any of these then you will have to have more than a proficient knowledge of day-to-day usage of English.

For example, does one use a capital letter immediately following a colon? Are "-ise" or "ize" word-endings English English (as opposed to N. American English)? How does one use apostrophes? (Is it "Jesus'" or "Jesus's"?) What do "recto", "frontispiece", or "fascicle" mean? (Incidentally the New Oxford Style Manual is itself a fascicle.) Need (another) table of copy edit mark-up symbols? All these needs are addressed by the New Oxford Style Manual.

This is the 2nd edition (the first came out in 2003) and is a thorough work. It even covers my common bugbears the capitalisation of "Earth" the proper noun when referring to the planet, the "Moon" when referring to Earth's moon as opposed to any old moon, and, ditto, "Galaxy". And it explains that sun can be lowercase when not used in an astronomical sense (such as "she stepped out of the trees and into the sun", when "sun" is actually being used to mean "sunlight"). These rules have their embryonic beginnings in Harts Rules for Compositors and Readers at the University Press, Oxford 1893 but have since been greatly expanded, and are in line with many reputable specialist guides where an overlap occurs. And so "fetus" should be used not "foetus". (The guide does not say but this last is to do with different Latin and Greek roots: "fetus" relates to small and not smelly, hence "foetid".)

The second half of the book is the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors. This is not a comprehensive English dictionary though it is a fair size but has words that need to be referred to frequently due to their spelling, capitalisation, hyphenation or punctuation. This section too has pedigree having first become manifest as Authors' and Printers Dictionary in 1905.

Now, it may be that you already have Fowler's on your writing reference shelf right by your word processor, and undoubtedly SF2 Concatenation's science regulars will have two or three specialist science dictionaries relating to the specialisms in which they commonly work, not to mention style booklets. (I regularly use the Institute of Biology's Biological Nomenclature, the first edition of which is a must while the third and subsequent editions are a waste of space. Also invaluable is the Royal Society of Medicine's Units, Symbols and Abbreviations.) The New Oxford Style Manual does not replace these works (although there is some substantial overlap) but it does go a very long way to answering more general (i.e. non-specialist science) questions relating to the use of English and so is an absolutely invaluable resource for those who regularly put pen to paper or, these days, pound the word processor for science and/or (as Brian Aldiss puts it) the science fiction blues. This is a reference work that writers of all levels and ability really need.

Jonathan Cowie

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