I have many, many quirks in how i use the English language — in fact, i’ve often made jokes about having to add something to my
internal style guide. But at some point, i realised it might actually be a good idea to start keeping one, so here it is! This document details how i try to write things up for this site.
Use British English spellings: colour, not color.
Use -ise, not -ize.
Use Æ and Œ only when there is precedent for using ae and oe in modern usage: æsthetic and fœtus, but not æquals or œconomy. (See § 2.4 ‘Problem words’ for semantically-important exceptions.)
Use diæreses when vowel sounds are separate and could potentially be confused for a preëxisting digraph: coöperative, poëtic, reünion.
IJ is one letter, and it should be treated as such: IJsselmeer, Marĳn (with wide spacing).
Use em and en dashes for their proper purposes, surrounding the em dash with thin spaces:
Excuse me — is this the London–Manchester train?
Numbers should be set in old-style figures (e.g. 11987) when set flush with lowercase text; if on their own or next to all-caps text, they should be set in lining figures (e.g. 11987).
1.1. Capitalisation & proper nouns
Decapitalise the pronoun i when not at the start of a sentence:
I thought i had left it over there.
Do not capitalise positions of power unless they’re being used as a title:
Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada, met President Obama on Thursday.
For trademarks styled in all-caps, use title case: Lego, not LEGO.
The internet and (world wide) web are media for carrying information, like television and radio, and should generally be left uncapitalised. Capitalising Internet is acceptable if talking about its physical infrastructure.
Bands are plural: Radiohead are an English rock band. The ‘the’ in band names should be lowercased in running text — the Beatles, the Who — excepting The 1975, whose numeronymic band name demands a capital article so as to not look out of place in running text.
Proper nouns, nationalities, ethnic groups, and religions should be capped up: Eswatini, Germans, Muslims, and the Baháʼí Faith.
Use all-caps for initialisms pronounced as multiple letters. When they do not function as proper nouns, use small-caps: FBI and BBC, but ATM and LGBTQ.
Use title case for acronyms pronounced as one word: Nasa, Ukip, Unesco, and Latex1.
Use lowercase for acronyms which are pronounced as one word and have been fully naturalised as common nouns: laser, radar, gif.2
1.3. Apostrophes, quotes, ʻokinas, and more
The difference between all of these signs is often confusing, so i’m going to try to clear up how they’re used as best as possible.
“ ”, ‘ ’: These are quotes, used to mark when someone is speaking or used for sarcastic effect as ‘scare quotes’. Punctuation should be kept outside the quotes if not a part of the quote, British-style. Either double or single is fine, as long as you switch between them when nesting quotes:
“The explosion was an ‘unexpected consequence of getting a pet cat’, said Aurora after the dust had settled.”
‘The explosion was an “unexpected consequence of getting a pet cat”, said Aurora after the dust had settled.’
In Dutch, the traditional „ ” form should be used, with the left side aligned beneath the text.
„En hoe moest ík weten dat de kat een blok c4 bij zich had‽”
’: This is an apostrophe; it shares a Unicode character with the right single quote. It’s used for possessives and contractions: Aisha’s, ’twas, don’t.
ʻ ʼ: These are the ʻokina and saltillo, characters with separate Unicode characters used to denote glottal stops (like the gap in the middle of uh-oh or the British pronunciation of butter) in various foreign languages. Some of these languages, most notably Hawaiʻian, have imported words back into English: Hawaiʻi, ʻōʻō.
′ ″: These are the prime and double prime characters, most often used to transcribe feet and inches or arcminutes and arcseconds: 6′ 2″, 3° 5′ 30″. They are also inexplicably used in the official romanisation of Russian to indicate the Cyrillic character ь: Казань → Kazan′.
' ": These are abominations and should only be used in verbatim transcriptions of computer code. For example:
console.log("When the imposter is sus!");
The best source for how to spell someone’s name is to check how that person spells it. If they’re long dead, don’t speak fluent English, or both… well, nobody’s going to lose sleep over Gaddafi versus Qadhafi.
After the first mention of a person, they should be referred to with a courtesy title (Mr, Ms, Mx…). For example:
- Lisa Nandy → Ms. Nandy
- Sam Smith → Mx. Smith
- Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus → Dr. Tedros (It’s an Ethiopian name; Adhanom and Ghebreysus are the given names of his father and grandfather, not surnames.)
Hedge words (‘kind of’, ‘a little’, ‘somewhat’, ‘rather’) are like weeds, slipping in and infesting perfectly good texts. Before hitting the save button on a paragraph which includes one, take a moment to consider whether you really need it. (And on that note, make sure to check for extraneous verys and reallys.)
2.1. Foreign terms
Don’t italicise foreign words that have been naturalised into English, unless talking about them in a linguistic context: sushi, fatwa, hygge.
Do italicise foreign phrases used as English terms: je ne sais quoi, a priori. This does not apply to proper nouns like names and places: Jón Þór Birgisson, Alphen aan den Rijn.
Don’t italicise words in languages that don’t use the Latin script, even when they otherwise would be. The script change alone is enough to distinguish them: ξενία and пропага́нда, not ξενία and пропага́нда.
When writing something in a non-Latin/Greek/Cyrillic script, provide a web font that supports it. Not everyone has the same fonts on their computer as you do.
People generally know their own language better than you do; when romanising terms, use the romanisation system employed by the largest community or government of that language. Some examples are specified in this table:
|Arabic||UNGEGN standard v. 5.0||يولد جميع الناس أحراراً متساوين في الكرامة والحقوق.
→ Yūladu jamīʻu n-nāsi aẖrāran mutasāwīna fī l-karāmati wa-l-ẖuqūq.
|Modern Greek||ELOT 743 transcription||’Ολοι οι άνθρωποι γεννιούνται ελεύθεροι και ίσοι στην αξιοπρέπεια και τα δικαιώματα.
→ Óloi oi ánthropoi genniountai eléftheroi kai ísoi stin axioprépeia kai ta dikaiómata.
|Hindi||Hunterian transliteration||सभी मनुष्यों को गौरव और अधिकारों के मामले में जन्मजात स्वतन्त्रता और समानता प्राप्त है।
→ Sabhī manushyon ko gaurav aur adhikārom kai māmle men janmajāt svatantratā aur samānta prāpt hai.
→ Subete no ningen wa, umarenagara ni shite jiyū de ari, katsu, songen to kenri to ni tsuite byōdō de aru.
|Mandarin||Hànyǔ Pīnyīn||人人生而自由,在尊严和权利上一律平等。 →
Rénrén shēng ér zìyóu, zài zūnyán hé quánlì shàng yīlù píngděng.
|Russian||Gost 7.79-2000 system B||Все люди рождаются свободными и равными в своем достоинстве и правах.
→ Vse lyudi rozhdayutsya svobodnyʹmi i ravnyʹmi v svoem dostoistve i pravax.
An exception is made for romanisations of Ancient Greek terms, which use the following more Latinate conventions:
Ancient Greek romanisation table
|n||Before another velar stop, i.e. in the sequences γγ, γκ, γξ, γχ|
|rh||Word-intially and after another ρ|
|u||In the sequences αυ, ευ, ηυ, υι, ωυ|
2.2. Table of demonyms
Some countries and territories have unexpected adjectives or terms for their residents. An incomplete list can be found in the table below:
|Countries & territories|
|Botswana||a Motswana, many Batswana||Botswanan or Motswana|
|Burkina Faso||a Burkinabé||⁓|
|Côte d’Ivoire||an Ivorian||⁓|
|the Dominican Republic||a Dominican4 or Quisqueyano/a (poëtic)||Dominican or Quisqueyan (poëtic)|
|Eswatini||a or many Swazi or Swati||Swazi|
|Kiribati||an or many I-Kiribati||Gilbertese|
|Lesotho||a Mosotho, many Basotho||Basotho|
|Madagascar||a or many Malagasy||⁓|
|Myanmar||N/A||Myanma or Burmese|
|the Philippines||a Filipino/a||Filipino or Philippine|
|the Seychelles||a or many Seychellois||⁓|
|St. Vincent and the Grenadines||a Vincentian||⁓|
|the United Arab Emirates||an Emirati||⁓|
|Vanuatu||a or many Ni-Vanuatu||⁓|
|US states (generally no adjectival form)|
|Hawaiʻi||N/A or a Kamaʻāina||Hawaiʻian5|
|Illinois||an Illinoian or Illinoisian|
|Massachusetts||a Bay Stater, Massachusettsan, or (vulgar) Masshole|
|Michigan||a Michigander or Michiganian|
|New Hampshire||a New Hampshirite|
2.3. Table of Americanisms
This is by no means a comprehensive list, nor is it intended to be; you’ll not find stuff like aubergine vs. eggplant or color vs. colour here. Rather, this table is a list of Americanisms that i always forget are Americanisms, because one hears them so much more frequently than the British equivalents.
|British English||United States English|
|gherkin||pickle (as a noun)|
|number plate||license plate|
|series (of television)||season|
|storey (of a building)||story|
|stand (for election)||run|
2.4. Problem words
The æther is the substance once thought to fill the space above the clouds, as well as a metaphorical term for nothingness or the space into which radio waves and internet communications are broadcasted. Ethers are a type of organic chemical compound.
black, brown, white
Lowercase, unless you’re quoting a source which capitalises it. It has come into fashion to capitalise race-related colour terms in the United States, and though the argument for capitalising ‘Black’ as one does ‘Hispanic’ and ‘Asian’ is sound, it has largely failed to make its way across the pond. (Do, however, capitalise the ‘Native’ in ‘Native American’; both Oklahoma natives and Oklahoma Natives will thank you.)
A dæmon (plural dæmones) is a good or neutral guiding spirit, like those of Hellenic paganism. A demon is a malevolent entity like those of Abrahamic mythology.
pagan, Pagan; witch, Witch
Use lowercase pagan in reference to pre-modern polytheistic faiths; use uppercase Pagan for the modern revival movement. Emperor Julian was a pagan; Gerald Gardner was a Pagan.
Similarly, a witch is a fictional character or someone alleged to practice witchcraft before the twentieth century; a Witch is a practitioner of Wicca or one of the many other related latter-day religious movements.
A phœnix is a reïncarnating fire-bird. Phoenix, with no ligature, is a city in Arizona.
Practice is a noun; to practise is a verb.
Who gives a shit?
2.5. Correct spellings of words and names
Some words and names have less intuitive spellings than others. For my own reference, here’s a list of some of the ones that tend to catch me out, or for which (like Hallowe’en and déjà vu) i prefer a fussier or more archaic spelling than others:
- 2D, 3D
- Richard Ayoade
- bellwether (nothing to do with the weather)
- déjà vu
- Hawaiʻi (note the okina)
- led (the past tense of lead)
- Aleksandr Lukashenko
- millennium (think ‘milli-’ and ‘annual’)
- Benjamin Netanyahu (not Binyamin, whatever the Economist may think)
- publicly (remember, there’s no such word as ‘publical’)
<strong> when a change of tone is implied; when the font choice is merely stylistic, use
Use sidenotes for ancilliary information.6 If something would take up too much space as a side note, it’s good courtesy to use a
<details> element, like this:
Hello! This is an example of a
<details> element. Pretty nifty, huh?
Make images as lightweight as possible, be it through gif dithering, jpeg compression, or just shrinking the image’s dimensions down. It’s the kind thing to do for people with bad connections.
Small national flags can be inserted into text by adding an image with the class
flags and a source URL in the form
xx is the two-letter ISO code for that country. For example:
/flags/gb.png: the United Kingdom
Manually hyphenate words with more than about eleven letters using
­, e.g. ul-tra-crep-id-a-rian.7 Firefox’s hyphenation libraries can sometimes be untrustworthy, and Chrome doesn’t support automatic hyphenation at all.
In Dutch text, compound words should be manually hyphenated, regardless of length: stof-zuiger, Neder-lands-talig.
CE and BCE are preferred to AD and BC:
Emperor Augustus reigned from 27 BCE to 14 CE.
When communicating dates in numerals only, use the yyyy.mm.dd format: The first Garfield comic strip was published 1978.06.19.
Feel free to write the Gregorian alongside the equivalent date in the Attic calendar. It being what it is — a lunisolar calendar invented before computers existed8 — implementations differ, but here’s how i choose to calculate dates for this site:
- Times for sunrise, sunset, and new moons are calibrated for Northumberland.
- The month starts on the first night after the new moon. Remember, days in the Attic calendar begin at sunset.
- Dates and years are written in lowercased Greek numerals. The ‘phase’ of the month (whether the dates are counting up or down) is denoted by an icon of the moon: a leftward facing ☽ if the month is waxing (i.e. in the first two thirds), and a rightward-facing ☾ if the month is waning (i.e. in the last third).9
- Years written as [Olympiad].[Year], an olympiad being a four-year period. Counting starts from 776 BCE, the year of the first Olympic games. For example, as i write this, we’re in the fourth year of the 699th olympiad since the first games: χϟθ.δ.
In the context of Paganiſm, uſe the long S (ſ) for s,10 except under the following circumſtances:
- At the end of a word: ſales
- After another long S: aſseſsment
- Before or after the letter F: ſatisfaction
When speaking of or to Gods, make the thou – you diſtinction.
5.1. The Gods
Typeſet the Gods’ names and untranſlated epithets in ſmall caps: Apollon Acestor, but owl-eyed Athena.
This alſo goes for terms derived from Their names and epithets, unless Their names are alſo that of common nouns: Bacchanalian and Hermetically ſealed, but geology.
Typeſet Earth and ocean in ſmall caps. In religious contexts, Sun, Moon, and sky may also be typeſet as ſuch.
Nouns and pronouns referring directly to the Gods ſhould be capped up:
Apollon the Archer ſtretches His glittering bow back...
Do not refer to a handſome young man by Apollon’s name, or otherwiſe uſe the Gods’ names as common nouns referring to people.
Do not typeſet Gods’ names or derivatives thereof in ſmall caps when uſed as names for people:
The Common Era was devised by Dionysius Exiguus.
For reaſons of conſiſtency, do not typeſet days and months named after Gods in ſmall caps:
It’s the last Friday in January today.11
6. The most important rule of all
If following one of these rules makes something look worse, break it!
- 1.0.0 First draft. (12020.07.19)
- 1.0.1 Fixed spelling of IJsselmeer. (12020.07.20)
- 1.1.0 Added Section 3.1 (Foreign terms). (12020.07.20)
- 1.1.1 Changed italics to use Alegreya, not EB Garamond. (12020.07.21)
- 1.1.2 Never mind; changed them back again. (12020.07.21)
- 1.1.3 Common noun intialisms are now specified as small caps; the preferred romanisation system for Arabic is now the UN standard. (12020.07.24)
- 1.1.4 People without surnames are now also referred to by courtesy titles. (12020.08.15)
- 1.1.5 Removed advice about small-capsing names of government programmes. Added details regarding old-style vs. lining figures. (12020.08.25)
- 1.2.0 Gods’ names now only contain diacritics on first mention. Ancient Greek romanisation now prescribes -os and ou rather than -us and u. Added Section 6 (The most important rule of all). (12020.09.04)
- 1.2.1 Specified that names of religious groups should be capped up; non-Hellenic polytheïstic Gods now also receive small caps. (12020.09.11)
- 1.2.2 Added footnote regarding demon vs. dæmon. (12020.09.12)
- 1.2.3 Consistency improvements in style; making clearer what applies to all Gods and what only applies to the Hellenic Theoi (12020.10.06)
- 1.2.4 Removed the usage of diacritics for Theoi’s names altogether; pronunciation and stress should now only be indicated in poëms or other contexts where proper enunciation is important. (12020.10.29)
- 1.3.0 Added table of demonyms and adjectives for locations. (12020.11.02)
- 1.3.1 Fixed links in footnote #7. (12020.11.03)
- 1.3.2 Fixed level of the heading for Section 5.1 (“The Gods”). (12020.11.10)
- 1.3.3 Fixed blockquote styling (12020.11.11)
- 1.3.4 Added Vincentian to the table of demonyms; specified hyphenation for words with more than 10 letters. (12020.11.26)
- 1.4.0 Added “Problem words” subsection; moved several subsections to be under Section 3 (“Terminology”) rather than their previous parent sections. (12020.12.04)
- 1.4.1 Added table of romanisation systems. (12020.12.24)
- 1.4.2 Made dotted underlines less ugly on Chrome/Edge/Opera/Vivaldi/Brave. (12020.12.27)
- 1.4.3 Added Hallowe’en to the list of problem words; specified that dates and months named after Gods should not receive small caps. (12021.01.08)
- 1.4.4 CE/BCE preferred over AD/BC. (12021.01.19)
- 1.4.5 Updated name of
- 1.4.6 Updated guidance surrounding italicisation of proper nouns (12021.02.07)
- 1.4.7 Added déjà vu to the list of problem words (12021.02.08)
- 1.4.8 Link at the bottom now goes to a plain //marijn.uk instead of //marijn.uk/index.html (12021.02.25)
- 1.4.9 Moved exceptions to ligatures (dæmon vs. demon, phœnix vs. Phoenix) to the list of problem words. (12021.03.18)
- 1.5.0 Added a footnote about the capitalisation and spelling of the typesetting language Latex, as well as a new section (§1.3 Apostrophes, quotes, ʻokinas, and more) about how to use all those funky upside-down comma characters. (12021.03.26)
- 1.5.1 Specified that Dutch compound words should be manually hyphenated. (12021.03.31)
- 1.6.0 No more Holocene dates. We’re free! (2021.04.04)
- 1.6.1 Clarified capitalisation of band names and the word pagan. (2021.05.03)
- 1.7.0 Added a table of oft-used Americanisms. (2021.05.06)
- 1.8.0 Added a section of correct spellings, as well as stripping several extraneous rules. (2021.05.19)
- 1.8.1 Added info on the
- 1.8.2 Tightened up various bits and bobs. Added a part about avoiding hedge words. (2021.06.04)
- 1.8.3 Added ‘publicly’ to the list of hard-to-spell words. (2021.06.26)