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By Constance Hale

This is a guide to the finer stylistic points of writing in the digital age as proposed by Wired--the magazine which started as a radical minority publication and became essential reading within a year of its first appearance. It celebrates the New Journalism first proposed by Tom Wolfe in 1973 (Was it really SO LONG AGO?). Consequently, it might have too many first-person intrusions for what you would normally expect from a serious work of reference. Nevertheless, it proposes to lay down some standards in a world of print where most publishers rooted in the traditions of hot metal simply can't keep pace with the developments of the Net and its denizens.

It takes as its starting point the observations that 'email is pushing prose in new directions' and 'the impersonal computer screen seems to invite a no-holds-barred communication that is, paradoxically, more personal'.

The problem is that after a perfunctory introduction, the book slides into an annotated but purely descriptive 'dictionary of the Net' with asides on editorial policy at Wired. Some of these are brief explanations of technical terms (the origin of the '@' sign for instance) but it's hard to see why these warrant separate 'chapters'. It covers terms which are part slang, part technical jargon--such as 'core dump' and 'bot'.

It becomes more interesting when Hale discusses Wired's policy regarding language development--such as the tendency to merge two terms [modifyer+noun] into one term, as in the case of 'word processor' to 'word-processor' to 'wordprocessor.' Other contenders are HomePage and videogame. This is something which seems to happen more quickly in the US than in the UK. If this raises the hackles of any electronic disgusted of Tunbridge Wells, consider how rapid has been the progress from 'electronic mail' to 'E-mail' to 'e-mail' and currently to 'email' in less than ten years, surely, maybe even five.

Typography buffs will be interested to note Wired's tastes. They even recommend the use of the much-maligned Courier for reproducing the fixed-pitch grittiness of on-line (oops!) online quotation and such typographically fascinating items as midword capitalization--WordPerfect, InterNet and CorelDraw. It's interesting to note that they emphatically ditch phoney Latinisms. The singular of data is data, not datum; they make a well-defended exception with media/medium; and--here's a tricky one--the plural of 'mouse' is 'mouses.'

This glamorous publication in its spiral binding and slip cover is a good idea and it's an interesting nugget for the aficionado. However, when even a general dictionary of IT terms needs updating every twelve months or so, it will find difficulty in justifying such a narrow niche in the market. This is especially true when it only offers 150 pages of widely-spaced copy--as against (for instance) QUE's annual dictionary of IT terms which has 500-plus pages for the same price.

--Roy Johnson

This review originally appeared at the Clifton Press website © 1998 R. Johnson.

Dr. Roy Johnson is the author of a number of books on writing, study skills, and computer technology. He's the director of Clifton Press and the editor of "Writing & Computers"
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Wired Style: Principles of English Usage in the Digital Age
Editor: Constance Hale
Publisher: HardWired [1996]
ISBN: 1-888869-01-1
Binding: Wire-Bound w/slipcase, 176pp, 4 3/4" x 8 1/4"

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