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(Still) Groping for Words: Usage and Slang Guides, Revisited: Conclusion

by Edwin L. Battistella


As this essay makes clear, style manuals and language guides fill many functions and come in many varieties. They can be normative or descriptive, academic or popular, scolding or reassuring, comprehensive or selective; they can cover “Style” or “style.” Some manuals recommend a style with a particular audience or purpose in mind; others treat style as a way of establishing and preserving useful conventions. Still others provide stylistic advice that allows writers to differentiate themselves from the sameness of that convention or to understand usage more broadly.  And many style-manual writers blend and cross categories in some way. Zero-tolerance types must bend to the realities of usage, and lexicographic realists have their own pet peeves. One should also recognize and appreciate that style guides treat language itself in many different ways—with respect, wonder, affection, awe, or ownership. Those who select style manuals for library collections will want to ask themselves what style their patrons need. And those who select manuals for themselves will have to ask “What style am I?”