The Friday Fillip: How Shall I Put This?

By the time you read this, it will have been long decided. But whether, as BuzzFeed claimed, the loser of the Canada-U.S. men’s semi-final Olympic hockey game “gets to keep Justin Bieber” could take some time to emerge. That’s fine by BuzzFeed, which will have moved on with nary a backwards glance, relentlessly retailing its highly popular olio of entertainment disguised as news and news disguised as entertainment.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned that BuzzFeed has a style guide. I suppose I shouldn’t have been shocked: a multi-author, multi-million-dollar publication is a serious matter, regardless of the weight, or lack thereof, of its content. And seriousness often likes to express itself in the form of codes of conduct, among which are usage rules. Indeed, in the case of BuzzFeed, the expressed (and ambitious) aim here is “to provide a prevailing, and evolving, set of standards for the internet and social media.” (The “prevailing” is good, don’t you think?)

Sensibly, BuzzFeed isn’t planning to conquer the internet starting from scratch. Much of what concerns a proofreader are things like spelling choices and where to fling the hyphen (or n-dash, or m-dash) and so forth. The simplest way to manage these more or less arbitrary choices is by chosing an official arbiter that writers must follow. Thus:

BuzzFeed’s preferred dictionary is Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition ( In Webster’s, the first spelling of a word should generally be used (unless it appears in the word list below or is preferred by The Associated Press Stylebook). The preferred style manual is the AP Stylebook. Please consult Chicago Manual of Style for issues not covered by AP Stylebook as well as for more detailed information and discussion, where applicable. Any style point mentioned in this guide overrules those publications.

What’s left, you ask yourself? Quite a lot, it turns out, because the dialect written on BuzzFeed is somewhat different from that used generally by the Associated Press or Webster. Topics are broached that the AP might never have thought of.

There’s no way I can do the style guide justice in a gloss. I can only touch on points here and there to give you a sense of what’s contentious in the buzz. So, for example, the very first entry in the “Word List” section is: ?! (never !?). It’s fist-bump (v.); fist bump (n.) / gray (not grey) / and a 3-m hmmm. There’s some good stuff here — from my confessedly prescriptivist point of view: thus, the reason why is deprecated, and they get the less / fewer distinction, for example. There’s also a lot of stuff that . . . isn’t meant for me, shall we say: mansplain, froyo, sidebutt, bro-down  . . . and that’s OK (not okay or O.K.).

I’ll pass over the salad in the Acronym section. But the punctuation section might interest you. It did me, because I had a moment of existential angst about whether I wrongly use a hyphen after an adverb: a poorly written book, and not a poorly-written book. Quickly, though, I moved on and the moment passed — to commas — they use the serial (aka [not AKA] Oxford) comma!? And so it goes: to put spaces before and after m-dashes? to capitalize a sentence following a colon? to use one or two spaces after a period? and that customary condescension when it comes to Canadian place names:

• Foreign cities and regions that can stand alone (for Canadian provinces, adding the province name after a city is sufficient — “Montreal, Quebec,” not “Montreal, Quebec, Canada”)

Yet Montreal, Quebec, Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver make the cut as as stand-alones. (Sorry Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Regina and Saskatoon. [“Oh, you mean that Saskatoon!”])

The guide continues through LGBT terms, ways of citing music and bands, how to do numbers, and the laying out of recipes, all good things to achieve concordance on. Which brings me to Slaw. There is no style guide for Slaw except in the most minimal sense. The simplest explanation is that although it’s a multi-author publication, it’s so far from being a multi-million dollar publication that conformity seemed . . . wrong. And it would be too much work for me. And I wouldn’t be able to impose it on the cat herd that writes here. But should the timing ever seem right and the cats all be looking away for the moment, a guide could happen — and I’ll assert that internet is all lowercase, right-click is hyphenated whether a verb or a noun, and although, per BuzzFeed, Bloody Mary is the only capitalized long drink, Bloody Caesar will also sport initial caps.


  1. I guess the tom collins and harvey wallbanger are relics of a past age.