Jacob Rees-Mogg is the new Leader of the House of Commons. Some of you will have already clicked off this page and possibly the Chapterhouse site. Others will feel a thrill, a frisson at the name and be reading on avidly, perhaps hoping that I am going to reveal his favourite film, book, or after dinner mint. No such luck. I have no inside track to his private life, I’m afraid.
What we all know now are his style preferences, however. Not the top hat, the double breasted, languidly worn, pinstripe suit or the Oxford toecaps. No, I refer to his house style (or lower house style if you like*), his views on language and punctuation. These are meat and drink to a copy-editor or proofreader, the beating heart of a publishing house.
Proofreading and copy-editing are usually subject to the publisher’s house style. House style governs language and punctuation preferences, and when copy-editing or proofreading we must be careful to stick to the rules.
An edict has gone forth based on Rees-Mogg’s rules handed out in his constituency, Somerset North, to his staff as Leader of the House.
My views on JRM as a person or politician are neither here nor there in this blog, but I do love house styles. They say much about their authors. In case you missed the story, here are some highlights.
- Check Your Work. This is the first instruction, or the last, to his new staff. Not sure they have done this checking or proofreading business before, but senior civil servants probably welcomed this reminder warmly. They may even have an old copy of the Oxford English Dictionary gathering dust under the shortbread tin. Thorough proofreading is essential.
- Not too many “I”s. The ego is to be suppressed as much as possible. Views are presumably to be blamed on someone else.
- Esq. Non-titled males are to get this distinction – with a comma before it, of course. Rather charming, if debatable till the cows return to base. And he doesn’t like get or got apparently. I use them a lot. Good old simple words. Oh, and lot is to be avoided. I think I’ve failed the written test already.
- Hopefully. Unacceptable. Both of these overused horrors are off-limits and I’m fully behind him on this. Dreadful, hackneyed, lazy words. Even the most horrific crime is now lamely referred to as unacceptable.
- Equal. Another banned word. Far be it from me to speculate why Rees-Mogg might dislike it.
- I am pleased to learn. He really hates this. So do I. It’s prissy and stilted.
- Fit for purpose. Dreadful cliché from the sixties. Consumer legislation may be to blame. Politicians and others think it has gravitas. It doesn’t. Strike it from your house style.
- Imperial not metric. Well. The clock says nearly 2020. The UK (whatever countries that encompasses) will probably always have to be confused about weights and measures. But there are possibly more serious problems ahead for our country than inches and centimetres.
I am pleased to learn that the lower house has now got a lower house style. JRM comes in for a lot of stick for his views and some are unacceptable to many, but hopefully a lot of his staff will get behind him and find his rules fit for purpose. House style rules OK.
*It’s a pun, innit?