THE ASSOCIATED PRESS DIDN’T CALL its advice a “stylebook” until 1950. As we saw in the past coupleof weeks, the AP’s early iterations of guidelines concentrated on the mechanics of typesetting and transmission rather than language and usage.
The New York Times, though, was an early adopter. It started calling its guidebook a “style book” sometime before 1928. (Our library of Times stylebooks goes back only that far, and that one is “revised.”) And, unlike the AP, the early Times stylebooks spent about half its length on consistency in spelling, grammar, and usage. The other half dealt with how to typeset certain content, as in this: “Indent all agate hanging matter under real estate a nut quad.” Try telling that to a web developer today.
Unlike AP’s early guides, there was no grandiose statement of purpose or journalism in the early Times stylebooks. That came later. But The Times was not above taking a bite out of the hands that fed it: “The style does not apply strictly to advertisements,” the 1928 stylebook says. “Judgment must be used, and allowances made for the intelligence (or lack of intelligence) and evident intention of the advertiser.”
Like the AP’s guidelines over the years, the Times Style Book kept getting bigger. From a 70-page pamphlet in 1928 to a 99-page 5 x 7 booklet (with a dozen extra pages for revisions) in 1937, it went hardcover in the 1950s. (Full disclosure: This columnist worked on the 1999 revision of what is now called The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage.)
As expected, style guidelines reflect their eras. In 1928, The Times advised lowercasing “bolshevism,” but wanted “Bolshevik,” “Bolsheviki,” and “Bolshevist”; omitted the period in “per cent.” (Whoever used that?); used “&c.” for “etc.”; and hyphenated the nouns “break-down,” “hold-up,” “round-up,” “strike-out,” and “walk-over.” But “layout,” “lookout,” “tryout,” “setback,” and a few others were listed as exceptions.
“Approved spellings” from 1928 included “aeronaut,” “calibre,” “fungous” for the adjective but “fungus” for the noun, “theatre,” and “unforgetable.” It kept with the AP on not doubling the consonant in “totaled” and “canceled,” but wanted the double consonant in “kidnapped.”