Chicago’s hidden poetry
The Chicago Manual of Style, grand dame of copydesk styleguides, has published its 16th edition, but Ed Park, writing at Bookforum.com, recalls the 14th fondly:
Though I never read the book cover to cover, the Chicago Manual of Style took up a lot of brain space during my copyediting years. Section headings suggested good titles for poems or chapters: “Mistaken Junction” (5.63), the vertiginous “Words Used as Words” (6.76). Ostensibly a reference work, it was really a form of secret potent literature, offering some of the challenges and unconventional pleasures of the sort of doorstop-shaped fiction I was consuming back then anyway.
Chicago’s examples could be recondite or mischievously witty or of a weirdly resonant blandness. You could be boning up on the proper use of brackets (section 5.129) and be hit with quotes like this:
During a prolonged visit to Australia, Glueck and an assistant (James Green, who was later to make his own study of a flightless bird [the kiwi] in New Zealand) spent several difficult months observing the survival behavior of cassowaries and emus.
You’d feel an urge to procrastinate, to follow these intrepid antipodean emu watchers, but alas: The sadistic authors of the fourteenth knew that less is more.
Where did these fragments come from? What did they mean? Sometimes there would be a message just for me. On late nights while I waited for proofs to materialize, I would think of the poem disguised as 5.136, which asks the reader to “consider the range of expressiveness achieved by the following changes in punctuation”:
The comment section has a useful note on atomic typos.