Did you feel that online shockwave a few weeks back? For the first time a formal attempt was made to tame the wilds of Internet writing?or at least some semblance of a lasso was thrown out. Regardless, editors and writers everywhere are intrigued by Buzzfeed’s new style guide, which ?aims to provide a prevailing, and evolving, set of standards for the internet and social media.? It’s an ambitious goal, but It’s incredibly exciting.
And it’ll make the life of this editor so much easier.
Buzzfeed is a popular news and entertainment site that tends toward the informal (though It’s more than just Cracked-style lists or fun quizzes). While the style guide’s purpose is to create consistency across all categories of work published on the site, ultimately It’s positioned Buzzfeed as a leader in creating standards in modern, popular usage.
The Internet has long been a source of despair to writers, editors, and academics alike; while It’s given everyone a voice (or a soapbox), It’s also allowed the promulgation of common errors to the point that the correct grammar, spelling, or usage is often thoroughly obscured. So while we’re mostly past the point of believing everything we read online, Googling our spelling, usage, or grammar questions can lead us astray if we make grammar, style, or syntax decisions based on the general consensus of the web.
On the other hand, sometimes the Internet is the only resource we have. Both print and online dictionaries are notoriously slow to recognize, accept, and assimilate new words, particularly slang and technological terms that might become obsolete in between printings. This conservative approach makes sense when you consider the linguistic permanence that dictionaries represent; but it doesn’t help when You’re unclear on the correct spacing of “fanboy” or whether to capitalize “F-you” when It’s used as a noun.
That’s why Buzzfeed’s foray into formalizing and documenting popular, current terms is an exciting development for anyone interested in the growth of the language. It’s also interesting to read through as a snapshot of our culture. “De-friend” (never “unfriend”), to “fave” (“faved”, “fave-ing”), “It girl”, “photobomb”, “screengrab”, “LOL-ing”, “crazy-ass”?what do these say about what we’re communicating about right now?
From a social perspective, Buzzfeed’s guide is also helpful because it offfers a standard for writing about very current topics. For example, there’s an extensive section on LGBT-specific style issues (like what personal pronouns to use when writing about a transgender person’s background)?information that will allow writers to avoid unintentionally insulting their subject or confusing their readers. Though this information’s available online already?Buzzfeed cites the GLAAD website a few times?here It’s amalgamated in one convenient location.
There are style guides that are appropriate for different situations, and Buzzfeed’s recommendations aren’t necessarily going to apply to your academic paper. But be sure to check out the style guide if your writing is more informal?or you just want to get the cultural pulse in linguistic terms.
Christina M. Frey is a book editor and a lover of great writing. Chat with her on Twitter about all things literary @turntopage2.