The Modes of Style

Catherine PickavetReporter’s Notebook: Where would our individuality be without style? It expresses who we are via music, literature, dance, and other aspects of life. This is good.

But there are times when style is just annoying, especially language styles. And no other industry can grate on my style nerves like the tech industry’s style, or lack thereof.

I’m not saying non-editors don’t appreciate language. It is my sincere hope that everyone appreciates a well-crafted turn of phrase.

By the time an article appears in a print or online magazine, or by the time a book hits the shelves, an editor, or a team of them, has spent time poring over pages for grammatical, syntactical, factual, and developmental errors. At least you’d hope this is the case. And you’d also hope that they’ve caught them all.

In the case of an online magazine or news site such as this one, there is most definitely a style. But there’s a little more an editor of technology news has to contend with than catching one – or five — misspelled words, the order of events, interesting leads or clickable headlines.

And it’s no cakewalk.

One of my dear writers submitted a story last week with a little note embedded in brackets within the text. It referred to the term “Real Time.” The writer wanted to make sure it remained in its upper-case form.

I asked him why. Why is it “Real Time” instead of the more acceptable, to me at least, “realtime” or even “real-time”? Because it’s a proper noun, he said. Not good enough.

But he’s an open source expert. I am not. Could there be some usage particular to that religious order? I obliged with this style request this time and made all references to a Real Time (no hyphen) operating system upper case in the story.

I have to accept a lot in editing technology news without being able to ask why.

I have to accept that there is smartphone but not cellphone. That does not hyphenate the “open source” in open source operating system. That UNIX has become Unix and Web site isn’t web site or website. But webmaster is neither web master nor Web master.

That e-mail needs the hyphen until one day when, and I know it’s coming, the hyphen will simply disappear. And, of course, Internet is a proper noun in our style guide. Other publications feel it’s time to lower case the word. We don’t.

Unfortunately, the madness doesn’t stop with just tech jargon. The tech companies are willing accomplices in this wreaking style havoc.

Take the whole dot-com,, Dot-Com, dotcom, and .com reference boomlet.

Then there’s CLARiiON of EMC. ONStor, 3PAR, MySpace, Myspace, or just Amazon? eBay, Ebay, EBay? Yahoo! or Yahoo? QualCOMM, QUALCOMM, Qualcomm.

Now for the technologies, themselves.

SUSE or SuSE? WiMAX, WiMax, Wi-Fi, WiFi. JavaScript or Javascript? WebSphere. AdSense, AdWords, adCenter. Toolchain not tool chain and developerWorks. ProLiant not Proliant. .NET and .net. XML. But XML stands for something, you say? It sure does: eXtensible Markup Language. Software as a Service becomes SaaS. Rarely is the “a” accounted for. So why now? And did “New Economy” have to be capitalized?

And then there’s RIM’s BlackBerry. Have more than one? Then is it BlackBerries, which changes the brand, or BlackBerrys, which makes me cringe?

Another problem emerges as a result of these quirky little technological presentations. What’s the point if a parenthetical pronunciation guide has to follow a term? This was the case with Intel’s Viiv (pronounced “five”; or is it pronounced “live”? I’ve seen them both). Then why not just call it Vive? Seriously.

There is the added task for editors of making sure every single one of their writers accepts these styles and obliges, lest the editors miss something while concentrating on more, dare I say, important editorial issues, such as dangling modifiers, comma splices, subject/verb disagreement and transitions.

There has to be a method to this madness. Maybe the companies want to just screw with the people who have to ensure they’re rendered correctly in print. But I doubt it’s about me. Or maybe they’re just trying to stand out. To pursue that little extra bit of individuality.

Whatever the reason, it probably doesn’t follow reason. So in that case, it’s probably better that I don’t know.

Catherine Pickavet is chief copy editor of, and also enjoys pondering the existential, fundamental meaning of the word why.

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