For the 5 Oddballs Who’ve Asked

Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 3.26.25 PMMost of you should probably stop reading right now. What follows will be of interest only to those who: read the dictionary for fun; keep notebooks handy for jotting down odd and interesting words and definitions; memorize large swathes of the AP, MLA and Chicago style books (because why wouldn’t you?!); and take pride in knowing how to properly spell Volkswagen and the “Procter” in Procter & Gamble…in other words, to oddballs like me.

So, for the handful of those who’ve requested it, I’m sharing the Popular Woodworking Magazine style book (download the pdf below). Note that it won’t tell you why we use the British spelling of moulding, just that we do.

To be fair, I know that a lot of you pay attention to these sorts of things…because you are always quick and happy to point out my nasty and apparently unbreakable habit of neglecting to key in the article “a” when it belongs in a sentence. You’ve also noticed that, with the exception of in a certain former editor’s articles, we now use the word “of” after “couple.”

I have, however, made one (I thought) fairly sweeping style change upon which no reader has commented; it is apparently a pet peeve uniquely mine – unlike “couple of.” I’ve a hardcover copy of “Handsaw Essentials” for the first person to correctly note it below – and no asking for hints from staff members or former staff members, all of whom have seen me mark it a countless number of times. But here’s a hint from me: the edit involves either three letters or four, depending on what is excised. (It is possible, I suppose, that no one has noticed or cared…in which case my little decade-long crusade has indeed been proven pointless and I’ve wasted a good deal of ink.)


— Megan Fitzpatrick

42 thoughts on “For the 5 Oddballs Who’ve Asked

  1. Milford

    One omission I discovered in the style manual is the use of “either” to mean “both,” as “on either side of …” While it may be a somewhat common usage in casual conversation, when something is being constructed, it is important to know whether the job, item, etc. will exist once or twice. Sometimes the intent is fairly obvious, but I have encountered instances (fortunately only one in FFW comes to mind just now) when I had to examine the drawings and photos to be sure what the writer meant. To avoid the possibility of such confusion, “either” should not be used when the writer really means “both.”


    Megan – You are a breath of fresh air in the magazine business. Since Bill Safire’s column is no longer it is so great to have you keeping up the standards. Now if we could only tone down those sappy cover headlines.

    1. Megan FitzpatrickMegan Fitzpatrick Post author

      Well thanks. I can only hope to some day be as good as Mr. Safire (whom I miss).

      To what sappy cover headlines might you be referring – I’m genuinely curious, and always looking for ways to improve how we “speak” to our audience. (I will say, however, that I quite liked “Router Planes; Clean Up your Cheeks & Bottoms” on the current issue…because I have the humor of an 11-year-old boy, I guess.)

  3. tpobrienjr

    As a professional oddball, I must take issue with the stylebook’s rule on electrical units (220v, for example).
    This SI unit is named after Alessandro Volta. As with every International System of Units (SI) unit whose name is derived from the proper name of a person, the first letter of its symbol is upper case (V). However, when an SI unit is spelled out in English, it should always begin with a lower case letter (volt), except in a situation where any word in that position would be capitalized, such as at the beginning of a sentence or in capitalized material such as a title. Note that “degree Celsius” conforms to this rule because the “d” is lowercase. —Based on The International System of Units, section 5.2.

    1. woofy302

      Huh??? I’m making an appointment with my attorney to try to sort out the rules you pointed out; or better yet, make sure I don’t write a sentence with any of these units in it. No, seriously, thanks for taking the time to point things like this out to us. Now that the two of us have been “outed” as oddballs, I wonder who are the other three.

      1. woofy302

        In rereading my comment, I just realized I made a couple of misplaced modifiers, e.g. sorted out, pointed *********out. I think I just may give up writing all together.

        1. tpobrienjr

          OK, woofy.
          My point, not well-made above, is that the stylebook recommends referring to 220-volt power as 220v. The volt is named after a person whose surname is Volta. The SI system of units uses capital letters for abbreviations of such-named units. A for Ampere, V for Volt (Volta), W for Watt, F for Farad (Faraday), J for Joule, C for Coulomb, et cetera. So it’s 220V, 12V, 100W, 1A, 100J, etc. My second New Year’s resolution is to forgo cutting and pasting.

  4. Tim

    I thank you and all the responders for this most informative series. Although I can usually put together a few lines of text somewhat accurately, I realized the difficulty in properly educating our children in proper English here in eastern Pennsylvania. Whether or not it was the Pennsylvania Dutch or some other factor, I could never tolerate skipping key words in a sentence. For example, my children would often say, “IM done my homework”. “Are you kidding me”, I would say. What happened to the word with? There were many other examples. In short they both attended college, majored in English and now speak quite well in polite company.

    Please remain diligent. Also please send me a copy of the book as well. I deserve it!

    Thanks in advance,


  5. woofy302

    After reading the comments I know that my entry isn’t correct, but may I congratulate you in using “I’ve” as in “I’ve an idea”, instead of “I’ve got” or “I have”. I know this misuse is an Americanism that has become the rule due to continual misuse, but, nonetheless, your publication always takes the high ground. Thanks for not offending the sensibilities of the 5 of us.

  6. frozen1

    I can almost see you putting on your schoolmarm clothing and using a wooded ruler to slap the knuckles of the writers and contributors that do not follow the style book. LOL

  7. peppersvnv

    OK, Megan, maybe you can help me with an English conundrum. What is the proper use of will, shall, should, and would. Just to keep this about woodworking; if you wood (will?) keep your would working tools sharp you will (shall?, should? would? ) find life in the shop more fulfilling. How much would wood a would chuck chuck if a woodchuck had dull teeth?

    I would have made this funnier if I could.
    Maybe next time I will.
    You know I should and probably would
    I shall certainly try then engrave it in wood.

  8. karlpinturr

    The so-called rules of English are based in Latin. The vocabulary is — well — mixed, to say the least. As such, they often cancel each other out.

    To slavishly insist that the latter must conform to the former is to place it in a metaphorical straightjacket from which it will always attempt to escape; thus perpetuating the inventiveness, contradictions and conflicts for which it is (in)famous.

    In other words, stop obsessing.

    1. Megan FitzpatrickMegan Fitzpatrick Post author

      I don’t disagree that language is a living thing. But surely you’d agree that it makes things easier to read when, within one document or publication at least, there is consistency.

  9. Isaac Smith

    Because Popular Woodworking undoubtedly has numerous English majors on its payroll, all of whom would cringe at my butchery of the English language, I hesitate to point out the two spelling errors that I found on the last page of Style Book: subhed and sentenec.

    All of these language rules fascinate me, even if they are confusing and nearly incomprehensible at times. I’m glad that someone keeps track of and codifies them for us.

    1. Megan FitzpatrickMegan Fitzpatrick Post author

      Oh – I’m sure there are more than two. Nothing is ever perfect. Ever. And perfection is a moving target. (While “sentenec” is clearly a mistake, “subhed” is newspaper shorthand – as is “hed.”)

      1. Isaac Smith

        I wondered if subhed might be something like that, but didn’t find any reference to it on Google. Curse you, Google, for letting me down once more. And thank you, Megan, for teaching me something today.

      1. drragsdale

        I have no style book in my work but I limit myself to using “and then” once in a passage and then I better find something else for the next increment in the timeline.

  10. Ed Furlong

    I think you are a time-sensitive aoul so I think it is ‘We use “since” when we mean “because.”’

    Love the style book; must need therapy!

  11. DMac65

    I wanted to build the case with dadoes, BUT I used a BUTT joint instead. BUTT, I thinks the BUT joint will work as well. 🙂

  12. PeteW

    Delighted to see your ruling on ‘which’ – I’ve been fighting that battle for more than 30 years. Think you’re wrong on ‘since’, though. Perfectly acceptable as a synonym for ‘because’ – even Shakespeare did it :D.

    1. Megan FitzpatrickMegan Fitzpatrick Post author

      If we used early modern “rules” (or lack thereof), well, it would be more difficult to read. And you are perfectly welcome to use your rules for your style book…even if they’re incorrect 😉

    1. Megan FitzpatrickMegan Fitzpatrick Post author

      It’s not really a “fix” — and it’s not in the style book. It’s a personal preference, along the lines of Chris’s eschewal of “of.” And yeah, I suppose you’d have to have been reading for a while to see it.

    1. Megan FitzpatrickMegan Fitzpatrick Post author

      Well I clearly need to fix that! It’s Elisabeth (and my third-grade teacher told me I was spelling my name wrong; I got sent to the principal’s office for telling her she was mistaken…in a perhaps insouciant manner).

  13. sheephat

    This one fits the bill: We incorrectly use “over” when we mean “more than” and “under” when we mean “less than.”

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