Obsessing as Usual, But with a Smile

Found some advice this week that made me smile. And it came from an unlikely source—the SBL Handbook of Style: For Ancient Near Eastern, Biblical, and Early Christian Studies. I’m editing a book of essays on the Apostle Paul and his writings, and needed to know how the SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) would have me render words like quasi-legal and postwar.

So I turned to the handbook’s section on “Open, Hyphenated, and Closed Compounds,” only to find several paragraphs filled with instructions like this:

These may be hyphenated when the base is a proper noun or adjective (premodern, but pre-Nicene), but even these hyphenated forms tend to become closed, in which case the whole word is generally capitalized if it is a noun (Neoplatonism = neo + Platonism) but lowercased if it is an adjective (deuteropauline = deutero + Pauline, neoplatonic = neo + Platonic).

Plowing my way through the section, I eventually came to the most helpful advice of all:

So you see it can be a bit complicated. Our advice to authors: do your best, but don’t obsess on it. Our advice to our copy editors: obsess and then enter your decision on the book style sheet.

My guess is that last sentence was written by a copy editor somewhere for copy editors everywhere. Because only a copy editor would be obsessive enough to still be reading at that point.

But at least I know that the Society of Biblical Literature has given me permission to obsess about hyphens. And that thought makes me smile.

January 18, 2013

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