this book is 🔥 af
OMG **DED**, that hyphenation section is #goals
Admit it, copyeditors: your eyebrows just shot skyward when you spotted one of your own writing the above in Copyediting—even though you might have typed a Facebook comment just like it right before reading this article.
It’s OK. Take a breath. BuzzFeed’s Emmy Favilla is here to help you get over that cognitive dissonance and apply the same editorial thought you’d give an academic article to understanding how language changes, lives, and expands on social media, in chats, and, yes, even in memes.
Favilla’s been in a uniquely perfect position to create that understanding: she’s been serving as BuzzFeed’s global copy chief, helping the internet giant’s teams around the world create locally relevant, up-to-date style guides. (She’s since taken a position as senior commerce editor at BuzzFeed’s Market Labs.)
That work requires mastery of grammatical mechanics and traditional style as well as a finger on the pulse of the internet, and Favilla brings the two together in A World Without “Whom”: The Essential Guide to Language in the BuzzFeed Age. There are semicolon pointers and helpful hyphenation tips (full disclosure: that section quotes one of my own tweets), but this is a book that treats evergreen editorial debates (over vs. more than, who vs. whom) with the same seriousness as debates over the capitalization of brony or LOLsob, the semantics of standalone punctuation marks (!), and the resurgence of the comma splice.
And why shouldn’t it? This is 2017: even those of us who don’t work directly in social media spend plenty of time mastering its dialects and linguistic idiosyncrasies, and what’s more, so do the writers we edit. It’s editors’ job to stay on top of changes in usage and style, so dismissing internet culture is entirely unproductive. Favilla argues that we should instead focus on understanding where new coinages and forms come from and what they mean so that we can ensure they’re used appropriately and in the right settings. To that end, a helpful section on meme etymologies and a list of 42 ways to type laughter serve to illustrate the complex shades of meaning and context that color what might seem to the uninitiated like random slang.
Part of the fun of A World Without “Whom” is that Favilla’s narration mimics the ways today’s editors figure out thorny questions. She consults plenty of reference works and scholarly studies, but sidebars, tweets, and memes are embedded liberally throughout—and Favilla’s chat conversations with coworkers show the BuzzFeed team puzzling out usage questions together. In true BuzzFeed tradition, there are even some quizzes. Internet conventions pervade the text as well, with *asterisks for emphasis*, witty and fluent #hashtagdeployment, and the occasional instance of Doge. If that bothers you, well, ¯\(ツ)/¯. (Favilla argues, by the way, that Oxford should name the punctuation-shrug its Word of the Year.)
Sections on inclusive language and headline writing are useful guides; the chapter on regional dialects and the appendix on editing for an international audience are likewise handy for editors of all stripes. If you’re looking for prescriptive rules, you’ll find some here, but you’ll also find plenty of descriptivism at the bleeding edge of language change: “It is important to acknowledge,” Favilla writes, “that humans, never ones to enjoy being squeezed into tiny little boxes (unless that’s your thing, in which case I totally respect your unconventional hobby, because hey, I don’t own you, man), generally should not be expected to fit neatly into one or the other category of this prescriptivist-descriptivist dichotomy.” (She does note parenthetically, however, that “if you don’t suffer from severe character flaws, erring heavily on the side of descriptivism will probably, mostly likely, come as second nature.”)
In other words, Favilla has managed to give readers a humorous, opinionated, conversational read and a volume editors might actually reference at our desks. A World Without “Whom” is an important contribution from a key thinker in the millennial generation of copyeditors. #win