Tagged: The Village Voice

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”:

Go home.
Go home!
Go home?
Go home?!

The comment section has a useful note on atomic typos.