The Marijn van Hoorn style guide

Or: The typing quirk hall of shame (version 1.8.3)

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.

1. Spelling

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 LondonManchester 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.

1.2. Acronyms

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: КазаньKazan′.

' ": These are abominations and should only be used in verbatim transcriptions of computer code. For example: console.log("When the imposter is sus!");

2. Term­in­o­logy

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:

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:

Language Romanisation Example
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.
Japanese Hepburn romanisation すべての人間は、生まれながらにして自由であり、かつ、尊厳と権利とについて平等である。
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
Greek Latin Notes
α a
β b
γ g
n Before another velar stop, i.e. in the sequences γγ, γκ, γξ, γχ
δ d
ε e
ζ z
η ē
θ th
ι i
κ c
λ l
μ m
ν n
ξ x
ο o
π p
ρ r
rh Word-intially and after another ρ
σ/ς ſ/s
τ t
υ y
u In the sequences αυ, ευ, ηυ, υι, ωυ
φ ph
χ ch
ψ ps
ω ō
αι æ
οι œ
oi Word-finally

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:

Place name Demonym Adjective
Countries & territories
Botswana a Motswana, many Batswana Botswanan or Motswana
Burkina Faso a Burkinabé
Côte d’Ivoire an Ivorian
Dominica a Dominican3
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
Monaco a Monégasque
Myanmar N/A Myanma or Burmese
Niger a Nigerien
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
Indiana a Hoosier
Massa­chu­setts a Bay Stater, Massa­chu­setts­an, or (vulgar) Masshole
Michigan a Michigander or Michiganian
New Hampshire a New Hampshirite
Utah a Utahn

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
autocue teleprompter
full stop period
gherkin pickle (as a noun)
number plate license plate
series (of television) season
solicitor attorney
storey (of a building) story
stand (for election) run
torch flashlight
windscreen windshield

2.4. Problem words

æther, ether

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.)

dæmon, demon

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.

phœnix, Phoenix

A phœnix is a reïncarnating fire-bird. Phoenix, with no ligature, is a city in Arizona.

practice, practise

Practice is a noun; to practise is a verb.

who, whom

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:

3. Markup

Use <em> and <strong> when a change of tone is implied; when the font choice is merely stylistic, use <i> and <b>.

<i>Homo sapiens</i> is a <em>very</em> interesting animal.

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:

Example element

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 /flags/xx.png, where xx is the two-letter ISO code for that country. For example:

Manually hyphenate words with more than about eleven letters using &shy;, 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.

4. Dates

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 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:

5. Faith

In the context of Paganiſm, uſe the long S (ſ) for s,10 except under the following cir­cum­ſtan­ces:

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!

7. Changelog

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