Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style/Archive 11

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National varieties and international relations

Maybe this is a subject like race is in the United States: difficult to have an amicable and productive discussion about.

Sometimes there appears to be at least a distaste for American English (or the United States) in and of itself. In my opinion, this is at best inappropriate.

I have asked at least once (although it was some time ago) for input on improving international relation in general or the about language issue in particular. I got no takers. Maurreen 12:19, 19 Feb 2005 (UTC)

I'm not sure what you mean here. I think the distaste held by many users is about a form of standard English being foisted on them, when they prefer to use another. However, IMO, it would be best to tidy up the US v non-US English dispute. I suggest the following principles and suggest there are no exceptions to them:
(i) An article should be written in one form of standard English, which should be used consistently throughout that article;
(ii) Where an article is on a topic closely-related to one part of the English-speaking world, that article should be written in a form of standard English used in that part of the English-speaking world;
(iii) If a word/phrase that is used in one form of standard English is not generally understood by speakers of another form, it should either be avoided or explained;
(iv) The form of standard English adopted by an article should not be changed without good reason;
(v) There are no exceptions to the above.
Comments? jguk 13:28, 19 Feb 2005 (UTC)
Looks sensible, altogether simpler, and broad enough. I agree that those are probably the basic mechanisms needed to allow amicable cross-cultural English editing. zoney talk 15:38, 19 Feb 2005 (UTC)
Disagree with (ii), (v) is redundant, and (iv) is too vague: everyone will claim their reason is a good one. Zoney, you didn't answer my question above: you said it would matter a great deal if an article about Tony Blair were to be written in AE. Why would it matter?
Also Jguk, you talk about the distaste many/some users feel about a form of English being foisted on them when they prefer to use another. But isn't that precisely what (ii) above does? SlimVirgin 21:19, Feb 19, 2005 (UTC)
(ii) is pretty much what most Wikipedians think the position is anyway. We have both been here long enough to know that a great article on Tony Blair in AmE would just piss people off, just as a great article on George W Bush in BrE would piss people off. We could argue the point as to whether they should be pissed off or not till the cows come home, but we both know lots of people would be pissed off. (ii) is the best approach to prevent mindless edit wars - and that is why it is necessary; (iv) is deliberately vague, but puts the onus on the person who changes the style of an article to defend their edits, if challenged. It can be supplemented by guidance, and even though vague, is more specific than what is current on the project page; (v) is redundant, but is included here for emphasis, to make clear that the current approach (which is full of exceptions which regularly give rise to time-wasting dispute - see, for example, History of Russia) should change so that there are no exceptions. My proposed approach is needed to minimise time-consuming and pointless edit wars. It is also consistent with what many Wikipedians already think the policy is. That is why I recommend it, jguk 22:28, 19 Feb 2005 (UTC)

Jguk and Zoney, you just keep asserting that having an article on Tony Blair in AE is bad and would piss people off, but you don't say why; and that having your rule (ii above) will prevent edit wars better than the first-major-contributer rule, but again don't say why. It would be nice to see an argument. The advantage of first-major-contributer is that there is no room for dispute. Whereas with the notion of "closely-related topics," there's a great deal of room for dispute about what that means, so you can't hail it as superior with regard to settling disagreements. Also, you state that many Wikipedians think this or that, but with no evidence. Please: no more appeals to majoritarianism especially without evidence. SlimVirgin 00:21, Feb 20, 2005 (UTC)

Wikipedia attempts to accept different forms of English, to avoid being biased (e.g. defaulting to US English). However, having more than one form of English is (in absolute terms) inconsistent. To alleviate this, topics pertaining to a particular country are all written in the same form of English. But this is also done, not just to placate native editors for those topics, but because it can be genuinely jarring to read about native topics in a non-native form of English.
Your suggested mix and match (i.e. first-come, first-serve for every topic) is ludicrous. I do not expect there are more than a handful of people who would back you up in suggesting it would be fine to have articles such as Tony Blair and George W. Bush written in random English varieties.
There was indeed even a proposal that non-national series of articles be written in one form of English (I believe the furore was over colour articles, some written in AE, some BE). Now this did not gain support, but it illustrates that the national topics being standard forms of English is not just a nationalistic or editor placating measure (although it being that too ultimately tips the scales).
zoney talk 00:44, 20 Feb 2005 (UTC)

Thanks for your reply, Zoney. I'm not being intentionally obtuse here, but I genuinely didn't understand some of what you said. For example, "[H]aving more than one form of English is (in absolute terms) inconsistent." Can you put this differently? And again, you say topics pertaining to particular country are all written in the same form of English and it is jarring to read about native topics in a non-native form of English, but these are assertions about your views, not arguments. I don't find it at all jarring, and we can't do a poll of all Wikipedians; even if we could, that still wouldn't constitute an argument. By the way, I'm not arguing in favor of, as you put it, "random English varieties" in one article. I agree that articles should be internally consistent in terms of style. But I'm saying that I haven't yet seen an argument in favor of imposing the closely-related-topic rule on Wikipedia, as opposed to the first-major-contributer rule.

I also didn't understand about the "proposal that non-national series of articles be written in one form of English."

I think it's important to develop arguments for proposals like this, rather than simply asserting "it's jarring" or "we don't like it". For example, what are the benefits/drawbacks of the "closely-related-topic" proposal? What are the benefits/drawbacks of the first-major-contributer rule? Which rule can better cope with editing disputes? Also, please bear in mind that, even with the first-major-contributer rule, the chances of Tony Blair ending up in American English are close to zero, because British PMs will tend to be written about first by British editors. And even if that is not the case, editors may concede their positions without there being a rule forcing them to, as I did with Bernard Williams, for example. SlimVirgin 01:46, Feb 20, 2005 (UTC)

Part of what I was thinking of when I started this section was zoney's statement some time ago, roughly, that it is unacceptable for the style guide to be in American English. (My point is not to single out Zoney, but that's the best example I can think of at the moment.)
  1. Given at least that everything must be written in some variety of English, etc., I don't understand the comment or the sentiment.
  2. Nor can I appreciate it. I can't see anything constructive about it, and I can't see any way that it was warranted. Maurreen 02:04, 20 Feb 2005 (UTC)

I'd like to tease out any arguments for that reason, because we can't write a style guide that's based on anti-Americanism, or any other prejudice. For example, I wince every time I see "organisation" but that's not an argument, and is therefore irrelevant. I'm hopeful we can try to put aside all prejudices and look at the issue in terms of cost/benefit, bearing in mind that we're here to act in Wikipedia's interests and not to promote or attack any particular country. SlimVirgin 02:16, Feb 20, 2005 (UTC)

For whatever it is worth, I also agree that it is appropriate that articles on an English-speaking country should follow the spelling standards of that country, and that while all articles should strive for international comprehensibility, local usage should generally be followed: for example, someone has a "flat" in London, but an "apartment" in New York. The former is in a "block of flats", the latter in an "apartment building". -- Jmabel | Talk 07:09, Feb 20, 2005 (UTC)

I am going further than just "spelling standards" - I am suggesting that articles on a topic closely-related to an English-speaking country should be in a form of standard English used in that country. This includes grammar, punctuation, phraseology, etc. jguk 09:09, 20 Feb 2005 (UTC)
Yes, but why? I'm trying to find out what the argument is. According to this "closely-related-topic rule", if a British editor were to write an article on a topic "closely related" to Israel, which uses AE as a second language, and the editor were to write the article in the style s/he is most accustomed to, which would likely be BE, another editor is allowed, indeed encouraged, to change that article to AE spelling and punctuation, even if the first editor objects. I find that absurd, and I can't think of a single argument to support it. SlimVirgin 07:31, Feb 20, 2005 (UTC)
Israel is not an English-speaking country. I totally fail to see how the rule would mean what you say it does. -- Jmabel | Talk 08:03, Feb 20, 2005 (UTC)
Jguk wants the rule to state that articles must be written in the style of English used in the country on topics "closely related" or "specific" (not defined) to to that country. English is a second language in Israel, and they use AE. Following his rule, any British editor writing about a topic related to Israel would have to write in AE. SlimVirgin 09:58, Feb 20, 2005 (UTC)
I think we're all in agreement about this, which is already in the style guide: "Articles that focus on a topic specific to a particular English-speaking country should generally conform to the spelling of that country."
I am trying to understand why there is any "US v non-US English dispute" on this page at all. I see it as needlessly divisive. Maurreen 09:15, 20 Feb 2005 (UTC)

I'm not in agreement with it. I would like to see first-major-contributer apply across the board, simply because it's easier, more consistent, and there's no ambiguity in the case of edit disputes. SlimVirgin 09:58, Feb 20, 2005 (UTC)


Alas, we are not all in agreement about this. My view is that "spelling" is too narrow, as it excludes punctuation, grammar, phraseology, etc. , which is why I prefer to refer to a "form of standard English". SlimVirgin, however, appears to disagree with the premise that an article on a topic closely related to a particular English-speaking country should be in a form of English (or indeed have spelling) used in that country.

On your second point here, we are having the discussion here in the hope that it will aid/prevent disputes such as the comma dispute on History of Russia. It's best to deal with most of the disputes here - deal with them once and for all - and then direct future disputes to this page. Kind regards, jguk 09:47, 20 Feb 2005 (UTC)

But I think that Maurreen's right in that we need to address the underlying causes of the disagreements. No one who speaks in favor of the "closely related rule" has yet given an argument in favor of it. Could someone do that please? The reason I'm asking is to dispel the sense that it's based on anti-American sentiment and so we can move forward, and either agree or disagree with the argument. Without an argument, it's hard to know how to proceed. SlimVirgin 09:58, Feb 20, 2005 (UTC)
The argument in favour of the "closely related" rule (which we already by and large have) is that it reduces edit wars. Generally speaking, people prefer to read text that adopts the spellings/punctuations/grammar/style, etc. that they are used to. On Wikipedia, where we have editors the world over, the acceptance of others' styles is predicated by the requirement that one's own style is also accepted. We therefore need a compromise - and so far, a requirement of sticking to British English on British articles, American English on American articles, Australian English on Australian articles has worked pretty well.
I don't see this as being anti- or pro- any particular form of standard English. Maybe SV would like to note that the proposals above would abolish the somewhat nonsensical rule that articles written in American English should follow British English punctuation rules as far as quotation marks are concerned.
The proposals are predicated on outlining a compromise on what form of standard English to use that is/will be accepted by the overwhelming majority, at least to the extent that they will not edit war in contravention of it, jguk 10:17, 20 Feb 2005 (UTC)

I wonder how that rule could reduce edit wars, as it's so vague. "Closely related" is not defined; nor is "specific to", so if anyone were to dig their heels in, the edit war could not be decided with reference to the MoS, making the rule somewhat pointless, whereas first-major-contributer is clear. How would you deal with articles related to Israel? SlimVirgin 10:24, Feb 20, 2005 (UTC)

It's usually clear whether an article is "closely-related" to one part of the English-speaking world or not, so whilst not tightly defined, I imagine there are very few occasions where there is any real doubt.
On articles relating to Israel, the rule would be clear. Israel is not an English-speaking country, so such articles should be written in any form of standard English. The form of standard English should not then be changed without good reason, jguk 10:45, 20 Feb 2005 (UTC)

But English is used in Israel, and you want the rule to be that the style of English used in the country should be used in articles "closely related" to the country. I disagree that it's usually clear whether an article is "closely related" to one country over another, but I repeat my argument: the first-major-contributer rule makes it not "usually clear" but pretty well always clear. So why do you prefer usually to always? I still haven't seen an argument. SlimVirgin 10:52, Feb 20, 2005 (UTC)

I agree with SlimVirgin on this, at least: things aren't clear. For example, there's a huge amount of ignorance of people's own native language on both sides of the Atlantic, and added to that is the simple fact that most people, even if they take an interest in such things, simply don't know what all the differences are. The tendency is all too often to assume that one's idiolect is in fact standard, and that different usages are either wrong or an imposition of some other standard. A rule that depends upon users (and that includes admins) being reasonably knowledgeable about language is bound to fail.
On the other hand, I do feel that many people are jarred when they see an article written in a variant of English that's alien to the topic. An extreme example (the first version of the article Olympia Academy):
Yo. The Olympia Academy was pretty damn important for Einstien. Before his miracle year, he and his buddies would get together and debate physics and philosophy books. There were a few other members of the Academy, other than Einstein, like Conrad Habicht, Maurice Solovine and Albert Einstein. They got together a lot when Einstein was a patent clerk in Bern. The group kinda started when Einstein was tutoring and crap, but a tutor session turned into regular debates about various topics, so it became much more than tutoring. The totally thought a lot and were really smart dudes.
But it doesn't have to be that extreme; many British people would feel uncomfortable if they read an article on the Battle of Hastings or the Cotswolds in American English, and many American users would feel the same if faced with an article on the Alamo or the Grand Canyon in British English. Well, they'd feel discomfort if they read those articles in certain contexts; it wouldn't bother most people if the context were itself foreign (American English in an American novel or textbook, etc.). The point is, though, that Wikipedia is international, and users tend therefore not to see it as foreign — so the jarring is inevitable.
The problems are:
there's no neutral form of English;
most (all?) users would be unable to write an article with confidence (or accuracy) in a form of English not their own;
the more ignorant of language, or un-self-confident people are, the more aggressive they become when faced with changes to their English.
I don't think that there's a foolproof approach to this, but would the following variation on jguk's rules be acceptable?
i. Users should start articles in the form of English most familiar to them.
ii. When editing existing articles, users should try to stick to the form of English already used, unless the subject of the article makes another form of English appropriate. (examples could be given here)
iii. If users are unable to follow the existing form of English, they should make their edits anyway, and leave a note on the Talk page asking for a translation.
iv. If an article is found to contain different forms of English, it should be made consistent either with the subject of the article or with the first editor's usage.
v. Remember that many people will make honest mistakes, and that there's often room for genuine disagreement, so keep cool — accuracy and clarity are the most important qualities of an article.
The cliché about being divided by a common language has a certain truth, but I don't see that it need be a hostile division. Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 12:16, 20 Feb 2005 (UTC)

"US v non-US"

Why is there a "US v non-US English dispute" in Wikipedia in general or on this page in particular? Why is real or perceived Americo/U.S.-centric bias sometimes countered by subtraction instead of by additon? Why do some Wikipedians act prejudiced against Americans? Why are some people offended by American English or Americans or other things of U.S. origin, but not offended by others of U.S. origin (such as much technology, including Wikipedia)? Maurreen 19:33, 20 Feb 2005 (UTC)

I don't know if anyone here is writing from the peculiar perspective that you describe; I don't see how anything that was said above supports such a view. A couple of times I've met hostility because I made an edit that contained language that the complainer thought was British English (it wasn't in either case, in fact; the difference was one of personal style or punctuation in one case, and alternative spellings ('artefact'/'artifact') in the other). Mostly I've found that differences in language use have either been quickly and pleasantly settled, or have led to interesting conversations about the shocking state of (other) people's knowledge of their own language.
Nor is it purely U.S. vs U.K.; Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Scots, Welsh, Irish, even Yellowbellies like me — we all have our regional differences, and unfortunately some people (not restricted by culture or geography) treat them as matters of right or wrong. I don't think that American cries of “why does everyone hate us but use our technology?“ are appropriate or helpful here. Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 19:46, 20 Feb 2005 (UTC)
Mel, I can understand why you might not see "why does everyone hate us but use our technology" as appropriate or helpful here. I tried earlier on the Village Pump to start a discussion about improving international relations, and I got no takers.
There is some background that I expect is familiar to the people who have been following the style guide for a while. I will explain if anyone wants, here or elsewhere.
In short, Jguk, for at least one example, is talking about a dispute of American English vs. all other English. But at least in recent discussion, no one is advocating for American English, and the dispute is not at all clear to me.
Jguk or anyone, I would like to suggest that either the dispute die out and be well buried or you explain its roots. Maurreen 20:34, 20 Feb 2005 (UTC)
Some things are viewed as more deeply cultural, and others as matters of comparatively culture neutral technology. To take it a step more extreme: the people working on the Spanish-language Wikipedia are, for the most part, perfectly happy to have the (mostly American) technology to build it on, but would feel very different about Americans dictating content. Sort of how we might feel it Tim Berners-Lee has somehow insisted that the whole Web use UK English... -- Jmabel | Talk 19:46, 20 Feb 2005 (UTC)
Maurreen — OK, I'll distance myself from any political or quasi-political debate about cultural hegemony. It does seem to me, though, that the existence of different forms of English can cause friction or even worse, so that some extra clarification, together with guidelines for resolving conflicts, would be useful.
Jmabel — True enough. I've not met anyone on Wikipedia trying to push U.S. English as the universal norm, though (have I been lucky so far?). I have, as I said above, encountered a couple of people who seemed to think that there was a conspiracy to push British English, which could either be because there is (though I haven't encountered that either), or because they're inclined the other way. I don't know. Let's translate the whole thing into Swahili and have done with it (I've been looking for an excuse to learn Swahili for a while, now; this could be it). Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 22:33, 20 Feb 2005 (UTC)
OK, I'm game. Know any good "How to learn Swahili" references? :) I do agree at least with trying to avoid, reduce and resove conflicts. Maurreen 00:17, 21 Feb 2005 (UTC)
I've had my eye on a CDROM-based course in a local shop (in Oxford). Actually, to be honest, I'd rather learn Akan, which would be more useful for my professional interests — but Swahili's supposed to be easy to learn, and is something of a (local) lingua franca. Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 09:23, 21 Feb 2005 (UTC)

There are disputes between all forms of English. For example see Battle of Spion Kop over the spelling of Spioenkop. But the writers of U.S. English tend to get mixed up in more of them for several reasons including:

  • There are more American contributors than any others, so if disputes do arise they tend to involve Americans v. someone else more often than any other combination.
  • The difference between formal written U.S. English and other formal written English, tends to be larger than that between other versions of formal written English.
  • When people first contribute edits to these articles, people from other English speaking countries tend to be more aware of differences in English, because they have a greater exposure to American English than Americans have of other forms of English. Philip Baird Shearer 14:10, 26 Feb 2005 (UTC)

Edit wars

Regardless of what the style guide says, edit wars will be reduced by communication and cooperation. Regardless of what it says, it will not be perfect and it will not be followed 100 percent of the time. Regardless of what it says, for an article to be subject to an edit war over an issue covered by the style guide is inappropriate at best. Maurreen 19:33, 20 Feb 2005 (UTC)

Indented quotations

I often see editors changing the way quotations are indented. Many prefer to write blockquote; others prefer using a colon. I've been told the latter is "bad HTML." Does anyone know what the different schools of thought are on this? SlimVirgin 00:21, Feb 20, 2005 (UTC)

Blockquote is more correct, but colon will do fine, even though the HTML is not pretty. Basically, blockquote conveys semantics, and will be understood correctly by (for example) a browser for the blind. The colon just conveys layout information, and the semantics are unclear. -- Jmabel | Talk 07:11, Feb 20, 2005 (UTC)
Not that we care about semantic markup here anyway. The wiki markup precludes semantics. – flamurai (t) 07:16, Feb 20, 2005 (UTC)

Thanks Joe and flamurai. So if blockquote is correct (or more correct), does anyone know why some editors insist on changing it back to colon, and why the MoS now says colon, because I'm sure I read on a talk page discussion some time ago that other editors had agreed to use blockquote; though I didn't fully understand the discussion so may be misremembering it. SlimVirgin 07:22, Feb 20, 2005 (UTC)

No idea. I would prefer blockquote, but consider colon acceptable. -- Jmabel | Talk 07:25, Feb 20, 2005 (UTC)
I believe some people prefer colons just because it's simpler. Part of the point of the wiki is that HTML knowledge isn't needed. Maurreen 09:09, 20 Feb 2005 (UTC)

Quote marks

While this sort of topic is on the table — I use HTML-style quotation marks, and if I'm editing an article anyway, I tend to change quotations marks (as I do dashes). I'd assumed that this was pleasanter and fairer for people whose browsers and/or llinguistic conventions interpreted quotation marks in different ways. Again, I've sometimes found all my careful work reverted, usually without explanation, sometimes with the claim that that's Wikipedia policy. Any comments? Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 19:51, 20 Feb 2005 (UTC)
I don't care how people do it, but I wouldn't want the style guide to call for blockquote. Maurreen 00:46, 21 Feb 2005 (UTC)

I realized I didn't answer Mel's question. I have the same position. That is, I don't care how people do it, but I prefer the style guide not call for HTML. Maurreen 07:13, 21 Feb 2005 (UTC)

It probably shouldn't call for colons though either, in my view, given that blockquote seems to be more correct. Perhaps both should be mentioned in the article by someone who understands the debate i.e. not me. SlimVirgin 07:17, Feb 21, 2005 (UTC)

Mel's suggestion

i. Users should start articles in the form of English most familiar to them.

ii. When editing existing articles, users should try to stick to the form of English already used, unless the subject of the article makes another form of English appropriate. (examples could be given here)

iii. If users are unable to follow the existing form of English, they should make their edits anyway, and leave a note on the Talk page asking for a translation.

iv. If an article is found to contain different forms of English, it should be made consistent either with the subject of the article or with the first editor's usage.

v. Remember that many people will make honest mistakes, and that there's often room for genuine disagreement, so keep cool — accuracy and clarity are the most important qualities of an article.

I like Mel's suggestion, though (ii) and (iv) need to be nailed down, because they go to the heart of the dispute. Mel, when you use the word "appropriate" in (ii), how were you thinking it should be defined? SlimVirgin 00:29, Feb 21, 2005 (UTC)

I'm not meaning to be difficult here, I really am trying to understand better where people are coming from. I'm not sure how this is better than what's already in the style guide. I'm not sure what deficiencies in the current style Mel perceives. Maurreen 00:45, 21 Feb 2005 (UTC)

I don't think it's that Mel perceives a deficiency; as I understand it, he's put forward a suggestion that might be a compromise between two opposing positions. My position is that I disagree with what's currently in the MoS, and would like to see the first-major-contributer rule apply in every case: no exceptions. Jguk, as I understand him, believes the closely-related-topic rule should be extended even further, and wants it to cover the EU and also be extended beyond spelling. Perhaps Zoney favors that too, though I'm not certain. As neither side agrees with what's currently in the MoS, it would be a good idea to come up with a guideline that's clear enough to be capable of settling edit disputes, and that most contributers to this page can agree on. SlimVirgin 01:08, Feb 21, 2005 (UTC)

I think what the style guide already has a fair and longstanding compromise; what we have now is probably at least as good as anything else.
And I think these proposed changes at least would deserve more publicity if they gain acceptance just among us here now. Trying to change it is likely to open a can of worms. Just talking about national varieties of English on this page always becomes so extensive, and I see little benefit.
I don't think the trade-offs are worth the cost of changing this section of the style guide. Maurreen 05:59, 21 Feb 2005 (UTC)

The current section isn't clear. It says: "Articles that focus on a topic specific to a particular English-speaking country should generally conform to the spelling of that country." "Topic specific to" is not defined. And it then goes on to give examples, but says "spelling and usage", not just spelling, with "usage" not defined. I don't see this wording as clear enough to sort out an editing dispute. But if you think it's clear as it is, I have no problem leaving it, so long as it doesn't get extended in any way. SlimVirgin 06:39, Feb 21, 2005 (UTC)

I agree with Maurreen, the MoS is acceptable as it is. It should not be changed.

I suppose lots of people wouldn't like having the "first-major-contributer rule" across the board. And some people would oppose the extension of the "closely-related-topic" rule, like SlimVirgin, which I can also understand. The way it is seems to be the consensus of the majority. Therefore the current version should kept. Flo 06:47, 21 Feb 2005 (UTC)

Gosh, all this debate going on while I was tucked up in bed asleep. I must admit that I was responding to the discussion here, rather than to the current MoS. With regard to what it already says, I don't have any major disagreements, I just think (with SlimVirgin) that it can be a bit vague in places, partly (I imagine) because it's a compromise.
What I was trying to do, though, at least in part, was to treat the issue rather as I tried to treat the non-native speaker issue (see Wikipedia:Contributing to articles outside your native language. If I'm were to write an article on Sam Spade, for example (I mean the real one... well, the fictional one... well, the real fictional one...), or on Damon Runyan, I'd be more than happy for someone to translate it into U.S. English; I can see that that would be appropriate. I don't speak U.S. English, however, and though I know the usual stuff ('color', 'elevator', 'howdy', 'shucks', 'vote Bush'), I often come across new examples that I'd never known about. I'd be prepared, then, to write the article in the form of English I know best, and say on the Talk page that I'd be happy if someone Americanised by English.
Perhaps there could be a page on which people with linguistic expertise and a willingness to help could list themselves.
Now, SlimVirgin is concerned with the vagueness of terms like 'topic specific to' and 'appropriate'; I understand, but isn't the point that it's a vague matter? Any rule that tried to be too specific would be inappropriate. The rule shouldn't be there to head off any discussion on a particular topic, but to give a framework within which discussion could take place. We need to set out what the clear-cut areas are, in order to delineate the areas of contention.
You see, some English people, for example, not only feel jarred by non-British accents in Shakespeare or Tennyson, but also from Achilles, Noah, or Ivan the Terrible. I imagine that it's the same for Americans and other groups. We have to make clear that some topics are clearly specific to one form of English (Cuchulainn to Irish English, Owain Glyndwr to Welsh English, Robert the Bruce to Scottish English, and Bart Simpson to U.S. English), but that others (like the Bible, the Upanishads, and the Koran) aren't. It might help to specify that a specific English is only called for in cases where English is the first or native language of the country, person, or group that's the subject of the article, but beyond that it surely has to be left to the common sense of the editors involved. Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 10:07, 21 Feb 2005 (UTC)
You're going to have to stop sleeping, Mel. ;-) The thing about Shakespeare is that he didn't write, and wouldn't have sounded, like any modern British English speaker, so it's odd to insist on BE for an article about him. I question the idea that articles "specific to" a country should be in the English used in that country. I can't think of any advantage in doing this; and it smacks of nationalism, which I find objectionable, especially in a project like Wikipedia. The statement that it "jars" to see an article about Tony Blair written with the word "color" in it is as absurd to me as saying it would jar to see Ophelia played by a black woman. The spelling of some words in no way affects people's understanding of the article; and to use the "jarring" argument is to assume that topics specific to a country will mostly be read by people living in that country. If they're not, and we have no reason to assume that they are, the issue of jarring doesn't apply. SlimVirgin 11:03, Feb 21, 2005 (UTC)
There are various explanations of the difference between us, and the answer's doubtless a combination of them (and other factors):
  1. It might be a matter of individual sensitivity to language. Something like the dubbing issue (most European countries routinely dub foreign-language films and television into their own language, but in the U.K. we dislike dubbing — partly, I think (and I've done a lot of observation in support of this), because the British tend to look at the lips when people are speaking, and many other cultures look at the eyes).
    Similarly with a black Ophelia (or Macbeth in army fatigues, or Brutus in a lounge suit); people like me are jarred (to put it mildly) by the mismatch between the period of the action and references and what we're seeing. But then, would you really find nothing odd (and grating) about seeing Cotton Mather played by a Chinese woman speaking with an Australian accent?
  2. It might be what we're used to. I don't know what your experience is, or even what nationality you are, but when one's used to hearing a certain sort of literature, etc., in a certain sort of accent , then a radical difference tends to jar. (I know that Americans are used to seeing supposedly English characters speaking with Australian accents — Dick van Dyke (and Frasier) have a lot to answer for.)
Whatever the reasons, though, it's a simple fact that many people are jarred in this way even if you're not, and shouldn't we try to minimise such things? It's the content that's really important, so why distract people with extraneous stuff like the form of English used?
My German's a bit rusty, but I'd feel the same about an article on Leibniz written in Swiss German — or an article on PASOK written in Cypriot Greek. I strongly suspect that many native German and Greek speakers would too.
When I was teaching English as a Foreign Language, I had to explain to my students that, though I'd not even notice if an American said something like 'Were you ever in France?', it would sound like a gross error in the mouth of an English person, or of a French or German person. (Similarly, my grammar has been corrected in Greece when that of my companions hasn't, because they're Cypriot and I'm English — so my Cypriot Greek sounds wrong, but theirs doesn't.) So I hardly notice 'color' in an American book, but I do in an English one (and the same when I'm marking essays).
And don't you ever sleep? Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 11:37, 21 Feb 2005 (UTC)
I've been working nights for the last three months — discussing British v American spellings and reverting anti-Semitic vandalism is how I keep myself awake. I take your point about jarring. I think I either don't experience it or I enjoy the jolt, and regarding performances, the best Medea I've seen was Japanese. I was thinking of asking on the German Wikipedia whether they have a similar situation with German, Austrian, and Swiss editors. SlimVirgin 11:56, Feb 21, 2005 (UTC)
The historic principle of using the English appropriate for the country to which the article pertains should not be omitted from any definitive list. If it were, this could unlease total mayhem on Wikipedia, as I would imagine some (UK, etc.)-related topics may have been started in US English. Although probably they have been UK (or other) English for years, going by the guidelines you are proposing, a user could insist on changing back to US English for one of the more major articles on the United Kingdom!
This is a whopping great change to make (even if it's just by omission of the "use English appropriate to the subject" rule).
zoney talk 11:44, 21 Feb 2005 (UTC)
I don't mind if, say, AE spelling is used in a topic that is inextricably connected to America, but it was only on Feb 7 that someone added "spelling and usage", so that's hardly an historic principle. I can't find where that change was discussed or what's meant by usage. What I'm saying is that I wouldn't want to see the MoS dictate anything beyond spelling, or see it extend beyond topics closely linked to the country; for example, I wouldn't want to see it extend to individuals who happen to have been born in a certain country, which is how this discussion began. Failing to extend it will not unleash total mayhem. ;-) SlimVirgin 12:12, Feb 21, 2005 (UTC)
I'm German, ask me :-) The most important spelling difference between German German and Swiss German is the "ß" (sz). In Switzerland, it doesn't exist, it's replaced with "ss". Germans tend to dislike it (me too), because it looks strange (my personal opion) and it suggests a different pronunciation. For excample Straße and Strasse. But of course, it's also correct German. Hmm, I don't know if there's a Swiss "Duden".
I think "usage" in "spelling and usage" is deliberately vague. It's needed because different spelling is not everything (but probably most eye-catching). There are different words (pavement - sidewalk), slightly different grammer, punctuation... Flo 08:16, 23 Feb 2005 (UTC)

Hi Flo, it's the vagueness that worries me. For example, I find people outside the UK often don't know what a "flat" is, whereas everyone understands "apartment." I wouldn't want to see us use language that won't be understood by many readers in the interests of deferring to local usage. Interesting about using "ss". I always use "ss", in part because I use a Mac and unusual characters are sometimes rendered differently, but also because I learned in Germany that "ss" was regarded as correct, or just as correct. But here on Wikipedia, several editors feels they have to change it to ß. SlimVirgin 08:45, Feb 24, 2005 (UTC)

I'm a bit surprised about your example, if only because I've never had any problems with it; 'flat' is sometimes used in the U.S., in fact, just not as often as 'apartment'. A further worry is that both terms are used here, to mean different things (a flat is on one floor, an apartment (the more general term) can be on more than one.
Besides, it can work both ways. I'm still not entirely sure what many U.S. novelists mean when they refer to 'a dress shirt' (because context tells me that it's not what I mean), or by Syrian bread, etc. I read a lot of American novels, though, so I often find that I have to explain American vocabulary to English (or non-English) friends (except 'dress shirt', 'Syrina bread', etc.). And don't let's get on to Australasia, S. Africa, et al. Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 09:58, 24 Feb 2005 (UTC)
Personally, I would prefer not to cast in stone anything that puts nationalism before clarity in the context of specific articles, or to encourage excessive deference to previous authors. Susvolans (pigs can fly) Did you know that there is a proposal to treat dissent from naming conventions as vandalism? 13:20, 24 Feb 2005 (UTC)

I've lived in North America and in the UK and have never heard Americans use the word "flat," though I've heard Brits use apartment, but not to mean an apartment on two floors specifically. I remember the horrible word "maisonette" being used for that, though perhaps that was just real-estate-agent-speak. I also remember that the BBC would say "block of flats" in their national news, and "apartment block" in their world news. Above all, I agree with Susvolans that nationalism should take a back seat to clarity (and to everything else, in my view). SlimVirgin 14:03, Feb 24, 2005 (UTC)

I couldn't agree more — it's just that my arguments don't depend upon or countenance nationalism (in fact I'd say that they're non- or even anti-nationalistic) . Let me add a further (admittedly minor) argument. Many articles on topics that relate to particlar countries will include quotations; unless those quotations are altered in line with another linguistic usage, this is likely to lead to inconsistent usage within the article. Thus, the writer might be talking about subways, and the quotation might mention subways, and they'll be talking about completely different things.
I stress (as my suggestions indicate) that I don't think that editors should be under any obligation to write in any but their own native style; I only think that it can't hurt if, when the subject is appropriate, another editor adjusts the English slightly. I'd certainly not object if it were done to an article I'd started on say, a U.S. Jazz musician, precisely because I'm not nationalistic about language — and I'm not clear why anyone else should object. Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 14:25, 24 Feb 2005 (UTC)

The reason I object to the idea that people have to be written about in the language of the country they were born or lived in, is that it has nationalist and almost racist connotations. I am not the property of any country, nation, or language. If someone wanted to write about me, I hope they would do so in whichever style they felt comfortable, and I hope no other editor would be so presumptious as to come along after the fact and alter the style of that article based on my place of birth, or place of residence, or place of work, or perhaps by counting the years I've spent here or there, to determine whether qua subject matter, I belong to American or British English. I find that notion deeply unintelligent. Writing an article is a creative act, and the writer has to be in charge, not the place of birth of the subject.

Publications are usually written in the style of English used in the mother country of the publication, though international publishers may have the resources to vary their publications from country to country. The English Wikipedia has decided not to follow the style of its mother country (America); and can't, or has chosen not to, differ from one English-speaking country to the next. Therefore, as editors, we can choose either to put the writer in control of the subject matter, or the subject matter in control of the writer. I submit that we should put the writer in control, and for practical purposes, to avoid inconsistency within articles, the first-major-contributer rule is the only one that makes sense. SlimVirgin 15:27, Feb 24, 2005 (UTC)

The argument "I wouldn't want to see us use language that won't be understood by many readers in the interests of deferring to local usage." opens up a can of worms. Does this mean that the words "chips", "lift", "elevator", "full stop", "period", "trousers", "pants", "windscreen", "box cutter", "town house", and "flat", (to name but a few) should not be used because they may/will not be understood by many people. What about more subtle ones like using "Northeast" in an article title? Back in the 1980s in an article in the Economist, it was pointed out that the language used by NATO was English but that this could cause problems. They cited an example of US and UK forces on a training exercise involved in a joint attack against an enemy. An American armoured attack group said that they had cleared a wood. The follow up British infantry were all killed or captured because they were surprised by enemy forces concealed in the wood.
One of the arguments for writing articles using local English for local topics is that Wikipedia can educate people in the use of all forms of English. If an ambiguous term or word crops up then a few words in brackets, by a contributor from another locality, usually sorts them out. For example if the words "block of flats" is followed once with "(apartment block)" then that problem is solved for any other usage of the term "flat" in the rest of the article, and maybe an American will have a better idea what the taxi driver in a black cab is saying next time they visit London and he is talking about his "council flat". (Americans reading this will be thinking OK, Flat=Apartment, but what is a council flat!!!!) We should encourage and celebrate the diversity of the English language and not restrict it to that spoken by mid-Atlantic pop stars.Philip Baird Shearer 14:40, 26 Feb 2005 (UTC)
If an English person was to write an article on New York with a sentence like this: "He walked through the subway eating chips."; most knowledgeable readers, not knowing that it was written by a native English person, would not draw the same conclusions as the same sentence written in an article about York. Perceived meaning can change with location because the context has changed. This is an extension of the old back of the contract trick of defining things to have different meaning from their common usage. To avoid ambiguity of meaning in Wikipedia, it is often a good idea that articles are in the expected local English, as most of the contributors to a topic are usualy native of the location in which the topic is based (location not just in the geographical sense but context). Therefore most knowledgeable readers will deduce a local meaning if there is ambiguity in a word or a phrase. Philip Baird Shearer 15:18, 26 Feb 2005 (UTC)

Serial comma

(I normally try to steer clear of style manual trivia, but) why does the manual include a recommendation that the serial comma be used? As our serial comma article points out, it a) is optional, b) can create as well as resolve ambiguity, and c) is largely (albeit not exclusively) used in American but not British English. All these are reasons why we shouldn't take a position. Mark1 07:11, 24 Feb 2005 (UTC)

See Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style archive (Poll: always use "U.S." and Oxford commas?). Also, Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style--Alpha Archive4#Should we cite serial comma opposition? – flamurai (t) 08:28, Feb 24, 2005 (UTC)

Blimey. A nice reminder of why I try to avoid these things. Just so long as no-one tries to put the blasted things in my articles. ;) Mark1 08:37, 24 Feb 2005 (UTC)

Mark, you should read Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss for a very funny book on how wound up some people, Truss included, get about these issues. SlimVirgin 08:53, Feb 24, 2005 (UTC)
I'm confused at why Mark is so wound up about the use of serial commas. I can see (just about) why someone might choose not to use them (actually I can't, but let that pass), but not why they'd object to them. Perhaps an example of when they create ambiguity would help me (and one that isn't simply avoided by using parentheses or n-dashes — in any case, that example isn't helped by simply omitting the last serial comma).
My attachment to it (and to other matters of punctuation, etc.) is a result of my philosophical aims, which include clarity and rigour, together with my experience of many different writers and styles, and the appalling vagueness and ambiguity that can and do result from careless English. The proposal to replace the policy on serial commas was to replace it with a warning to beware of ambiguity. My experience is that in practice people will often fail to notice such ambiguity (and there are books of howlers stuffed with the results), while getting into the habit of following a simple rule is (while not foolproof) likely to result in fewer mistakes. Even including the 'Betty the cow' sorts of example, the chances of ambiguity resulting from serial commas is far lower than that of ambiguity resulting from their absence. Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 09:43, 24 Feb 2005 (UTC)
Only two style issues make me physically wince when I encounter them: using an "s" in organization and similar words, and not using the serial comma. Lack of a serial comma looks like the sentence went to work in its pyjamas. SlimVirgin 14:12, Feb 24, 2005 (UTC)
Interesting (and I'm afraid that I'm bound to make you wince sometimes, as 'organisation' is how I spell it; I'll try to avoid the word). With me it's not a matter of wincing though, but of clarity and precision. I can sometimes get that through to students by asking them whether they'd casually move or omit a bracket in a mathematical formula on the grounds that 'the reader knows what they mean'. (By the way, I once taught an undergraduate who habitually turned up to her 10.00am tutorial late and in her pyjamas...) Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 15:34, 24 Feb 2005 (UTC)

Mark, you are right, we should not have a recommendation to use it. Most Wikipedians don't use it. It is dying out everywhere (but is still common in the US and the OUP and Fowler's cling on to it). It would be far better to steal the advice in the EU's style guide, which I think is quite good. It says "Insert an additional comma before the final "and" (or "or") if needed for clarification: sugar, beef and veal, and milk products." Succinct, to the point, good advice and what most Wikipedians do anyway! :) jguk 18:26, 24 Feb 2005 (UTC)

Capitalisation of organisational proper nouns, etc

I've raised this issue at Wikipedia:Naming conventions (definite and indefinite articles at beginning of name), but nothing was really settled there, and really that's subsidiary to the more general question of usage. In any event: what to do with the capitalisation of proper names of organisations that begin with "the", and which assert that the "the" is part of the proper name per se and 'ought' to be capitalised? The naming convention cites both "official title" and "most common name" (without being entirely clear which to apply when). Examples would include: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and The Duke of Wellington's Regiment, both of which seem to be pretty precious about their Article. In the former case there's an additional Wikipedia:Naming conventions (Mormonism) document, but that doesn't seem to exactly have a great deal of standing in (to take a not very hypothetical example) page move request discussions.

It strikes me that if the naming conventions are going to appeal to matters such as 'common usage', the MoS is, as a matter of practical necessity, going to have to take a position on what such usage should be, at least in general terms. To what degree is it legitimate to take the preference and practice of the referent into account? To what degree should there be a standardised rule? (For example, The Columbia Guide to Standard American English would be nice and simple -- and widely at variance from current practice.) And how do we measure 'common' usage? How do we weight the usage preferences of 'insiders' and 'outsiders'? Alai 06:58, 27 Feb 2005 (UTC)

I lean against uppercasing "the", at least outside of publication names. I think there is a page or section on this, but I don't remember where. Maurreen 07:00, 28 Feb 2005 (UTC)
There's an established convention for 'works' in general, yes (it hadn't occurred to me until earlier today that newspapers were 'works', but that makes sense, duh), that's discussed here. For non-works I've seen nothing terribly clear. Alai 07:48, 28 Feb 2005 (UTC)
I asked a helpful chap at the Guardian's style guide, and his take too, was not to do so. ("No, we would not reflect such preferences.") He went on to observe that tG doesn't capitalise its own "the", though as it'd be treated as the title of a work here, that's a slightly separate issue. More grist to the mill, at any rate. Alai 04:24, 10 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Separate style guides?

Would it help resolve disagreements concerning national differences if there were multiple style guides? Maurreen 06:35, 28 Feb 2005 (UTC)

I'd imagine it'd help start them. Particularly if they started migrating away from each other -- doubtless we'd get the horrible US punctuation in quotes rules quickly 'reinstated' in one, and why not vote to get rid of serial commas in the British English one? Moving towards an enlightened compromise is a better idea, IMO, though there could perhaps stand to be more guidance on where the compromise is likely to be. Alai 06:43, 28 Feb 2005 (UTC)
I can see your point.
In my view, the style guide already is an enlightened compromise. Not speaking either way of how it was before, but these issues keep coming up in the past few months, and they can at least lead to ill will.
So I just don't get why the current style guide is not accepted by some people. Maurreen 07:12, 28 Feb 2005 (UTC)
I'm not saying it's not, but like most such, it's far from fully specified, moreso since it's deliberately straddling the Atlantic (or the Canadian border, if you prefer). Some parts of it aren't 'style guide' at all, they're protocol for managing divergent styles (the which to use when parts), and that's where the friction seems to be arising. (We got here first, get your tanks off the lawn, etc.) A more fully elaborated style guide might make the commonality more explicit (don't say 'gray' or 'realise', use 'grey' and 'realize', to pick two lame examples off the top of my head), but that's a thankless task, and whether anyone would follow it anyway... Alai 07:44, 28 Feb 2005 (UTC)

Do you have any comments on the EU issue above? Maurreen 07:49, 28 Feb 2005 (UTC)

As far as I can see there are three main reasons why the current style guide is not accepted by some people:
1. There are areas where the current style guide contradicts what a lot of Wikipedians do naturally - which is to use a standard form of English familiar to them consistently throughout an article. Changing to such a policy would be useful.
2. The MOS has been downgraded from being a policy to being a mere take-it-or-leave-it guideline. Whilst it is a guideline, those who disagree with some of the guideline will just ignore it.
3. Some people will ignore it come what may. (At least if it was a policy, copyediting Wikipedians would have the upper hand in any style disputes.)

jguk 08:01, 28 Feb 2005 (UTC)

Proposal: Introduction of Style Tags

I've been following the discussion on this talk page with great interest and I think the following proposal could be helpful.
It seems to me that the most hotly debated and probably most important topic in the Manual of Style is the part about national English varieties and their "scope".

I suppose everyone agrees on the following two points:

  • Wikipedia stands for linguistic diversity
  • Edit wars (concerning language) should be avoided, they are a waste of time.

Keeping these two points in mind, I would like to propose the introduction of "style tags" for articles in order to prevent edit wars and preserve linguistic variety. The following proposal needs to be policy, otherwise it won't work.

I define a "style tag" as follows: It should be clearly visible in the source code of each article (maybe in each section for convenience), invisible to the reader of the article, which essentially means that a comment should be used:

<!-- STYLE: U.S. English, (optional: other style information), DATE/TIME (when tag was set)-->

I will now explain the benefits I see in using such tags:

For "neutral" articles (I'll use this term for "Articles that do NOT focus on a topic specific to a particular English-speaking country", for example honey), there seems to be consensus that the first major (although it is difficult to define what major means) contributor determines the style of the article.
The first major contributor can add a style tag, in which she/he describes the style she/he will use for the article.
Doing this has the following advantages:

  • It is easier for follow-up editors to determine which style the article uses. If there is no tag, they have to search the article for clues, which takes time.
  • Even if they find clues like "behaviour" it is still not clear what style is used. It seems to me that a lack of style tags will often lead to the following situation: A neutral article will very likely end up written in U.S. or U.K. English. Canadian, Australian and other varieties will be neglected. Imagine a Canadian starting an article as the first major contributor. If he uses spellings like "organization" but no British spellings like "colour" the article will in the course of editing probably end up in U.S. English. If he uses British spellings like "colour" but spellings like "organization" do not appear in the article, the article will probably be changed to British English, for example other editors might add something like "organise" and they will think it fits the article's overall style. However, it doesn't. It's contrary to the author's intentions.
  • If there is a style tag, it will be much less troublesome to change spellings/usage in the article to match the overall style and make the article consistent. It could always be explained with "see STYLE tag". If there is no style tag, other people might revert the changes, claiming that changing spellings is against Wikipedia policy and so on. Spelling changes can easily lead to edit wars. A style tag would ensure clarity and consistency.

At first, I thought about the tags as a way for the first contributor (in case of "neutral" articles) to state his style intentions and to preserve them. Especially spellings other than U.S. and U.K. which face "assimilation" by the two main varieties.

However, I think every Wikipedia article should have a style tag. Here is becomes tricky.
First of all, every native speaker of English will agree that articles should be consistent. This leads to the conclusion that for each article there needs to be a fixed style at one point in time to ensure consistency.

Now, as I explained above, for new articles it would be easiest if the first major contributor sets the style (in "neutral" articles). This is convenient for future editors, ensures consistency and preserves the original intended style.

For already existing articles, it is more difficult to set the tag. For some articles that are already consistent/country-specific, it will be easy to set a style tag. For others that are not, it will be very difficult. A decision should be reached in consensus on the talk page. The first major editor and the topic should both be carefully considered.

The idea of using tags to set the style of an article should be described in the Manual of Style and other pages that cover the editing of articles. Editors that start new articles should be encouraged to set a style tag.
Style tags can be set in two ways:

  • By the first major contributor (preferred). However, if the article is not "neutral", the first editor shouldn't set a tag, the tag should rather be set during the further development of the article, in consensus, taking into account the topic.
  • If no tag has been set by the first major editor (because he/she didn't choose to/didn't know about it, or because the topic is not "neutral"), in this case, the tag should be set after discussion/reaching consensus (taking into account first editor's style and the topic) on the talk page.

A style tag should not be changed after it is set. Once set, it determines the article's style.
An arbitrary change should be reverted immediately.


  1. Style tags preserve the preferred style of the first major editor (for "neutral" articles).
  2. They are a clear reference for editors, what style the article uses, which is convenient/saves time.
  3. They prevent edit wars concerning spelling/usage.

Oops, sorry for such a long text. I hope it makes some sense, please comment on it.
Flo 23:13, 1 Mar 2005 (UTC)

I think this is a great idea. Is there some massive disadvantage that hasn't occurred to me? I might suggest placing such tags at the bottom of the artice, so they're not the 1st thing Ann Anon sees when she clicks edit, but that would have to be weighed against the possibility of their not being seen at all (but, hey, reverts are cheap). Hajor 01:21, 2 Mar 2005 (UTC)
I actally hope there aren't any disadvantages at all... :-) I just thought, that such tags are really needed, because at the moment there is no clear reference whatsoever. It's really not a big deal I think, just one line of (carefully chosen!) code. And I think/hope that everyone agrees that the benefits are worth it.
Putting the tag at the bottom or at the top seem to be the two options... I'm really not quite sure. Maybe at both bottom and top? I'll think about it. Flo 06:57, 2 Mar 2005 (UTC)
I'm lukewarm. I don't think that it would do any harm, but I don't think that it would achieve anything that wouldn't be achieved by the principle: "don't monkey around with other people's stylistic preferences" (which I hope most of us already follow). The only substantial difference would be in encouraging later contributors to write in the style of the first major editor, but then I doubt that many editors from Oklahoma can write in British English, etc. Mark1 07:24, 2 Mar 2005 (UTC)
Well, of course, editors from Oklahoma don't have to follow the style indicated if they can't/don't want to. That's fine. But, those who can and want to (for example, I think many know the major spelling differences), those editors would have a clear reference. "don't monkey around with other people's stylistic preferences", exactly. But it may not be clear what these preferences actually are... see explanations above (maybe not U.S. and U.K. but rather Australian, New Zealand, South Africa...?). A tag provides that information. Flo 08:08, 2 Mar 2005 (UTC)
But if someone doesn't know that "neighbour", for example, may be a stylistic preference rather than a mistake, then they won't know that even with the tag. The tag won't tell you what's a preference and what's a mistake. Mark1 08:25, 2 Mar 2005 (UTC)
I think it would: for example "U.S. English" -> it should be "neighbor", "U.K. English" -> neigbour. The tag is a definite answer to the question: "What style does this article use?"

The tag could also explain a style specific to the article. For example, in the "Theater" article, after a long discussion, "theater" was used for the "building", "theatre" for the art. Or consider a British editor who likes spellings like recognize. He could set a tag like:

<!-- STYLE: UK English with -ize and -yse, DATE/TIME (when tag was set)-->

If he doesn't set a tag, there might be a argument if it's U.S. or U.K. English, because many people regard -ize as an Americanism. Flo 08:50, 2 Mar 2005 (UTC)

UK English never uses -yze! jguk 09:26, 2 Mar 2005 (UTC)
Perhaps I'm being unclear. John from Oklahoma finds "neighbour" in an article. Either he knows that this is a correct spelling in some dialects or he doesn't. If he does, then he knows not to change it. If he doesn't, then he thinks that it is a mistake. In the latter case, then the tag will not tell him that "neighbour" is in fact a stylistic preference: all it will tell him is that some of the strange things in the article may be Britishisms, while others may not. He still doesn't know which ones. Mark1 09:04, 2 Mar 2005 (UTC)
I understand what you mean. I think it doesn't present a problem, if "John" doesn't know. Because, if he doesn't know, he shouldn't change spelling/usage anyways. But there definitely are editors that DO know and they can use the tag to clearly identify the style and keep the article consistent, cleaning up whatever "John" might have done. And reading "STYLE: U.K. English", John might also consult Wikipedia articles covering national varieties (there are lots of them), if he's interested. The tag does not mean, editors MUST follow whatever style is indicated, but they should if they can and want to. It saves editing time. It's mainly a reference, a piece of information, especially for editors doing "consistency housekeeping". Flo 09:22, 2 Mar 2005 (UTC)

If articles are factually accurate, NPOV, comprehensive and literate in at least one dialect of English, does any of this really matter? Filiocht 08:47, Mar 2, 2005 (UTC)

I think it definitely does. There needs to be clarity, WHAT variety of English is used. There are lots of edit wars over these things.
I'm sorry, I just find it hard to believe that anyone can get so worked up over these things. If there are edit wars, I'd suggest the problem is with the people, not the MoS, and that no changes you make will stop the edit wars. I doubt that adding a tag will stop them, and it may even encourage edit wars over which tag should be added. Filiocht
Indeed, I suspect the net effect of this would be zero. In some respects it would solve problems/prevent edit wars, but in other respects it increases the amount of hassle and could cause edit wars. It is I think an example of "instruction creep" also!

As someone whose English is neither fish nor fowl and not naturally associated with any style, I'd certainly appreciate some quick hint like this, where it's applicable. Following a suggested preference is easier without trying to recogniße it first. Femto 13:23, 2 Mar 2005 (UTC)

For all our discussions, most articles are in a neutral style - ie you can't tell whether they're in US English, UK English, Canadian English, Australian English or whatever. Putting a tag on that effectively states "this article is owned by Americans, or Britons, or Canadians, or Australians, or whatever" is not going to help. It will ignite a debate, which is now confined to a few articles, to every article, jguk 20:11, 2 Mar 2005 (UTC)
I don't support this idea. As Filiocht says, it's instruction creep. As Jguk says, no group of editors is allowed to claim ownership of an article whereby certain rules are imposed by them on future editors. And in practical terms, not all English speakers agree on what counts as BE and AE. For example, I see "organize" as British English; others would rather see "organise." I see "gray" and "grey" as British English, but I'm in the minority. I see the serial comma as useful and used in both AE and BE, but not everyone does. So the style tag for any British-related article to which I was the first major contributer would have to say "BE with -ize and serial commas, and spell colours any way you fancy." And regarding topics "specific to" a certain country: "specific to" still hasn't been defined, which is the major issue as I see it; so this proposal would settle nothing and create more problems at the same time. SlimVirgin 21:14, Mar 2, 2005 (UTC)
OK, you're right, I realize that the term "style" is too broad. As Jguk says, there can (should?) be a neutral style and imposing a style could really be regarded as instruction creep as you put it. That's true.
However, can there be "neutral spelling"? I'm just wondering. Is a mixed spelling acceptable (like U.S. + U.K.)? If not, wouldn't a tag provide clarity? By the way, such a (spelling) tag would not impose spellings on future editors, they can edit the article any way they want. It's just a piece of information, what kind of spelling is used for the article. Other editors can use that information to make the spelling consistent.
For example, SlimVirgin likes organize, others like organise in an article with British spelling. Who decides which one should be used for the article or is it o.k. to use both? Flo 02:48, 3 Mar 2005 (UTC)
The only rule that makes sense is the first-major-contributer rule. It avoids the imperialist attitude inherent in trying to split the world into AE v BE English, while ensuring that articles are internally consistent. Regarding organize/organise, both are acceptable in BE, Flo, though some editors here say organise is used more often in the UK. Organise is more common in newspapers, but organize is more common in academic books in my experience, but for Wikipedia purposes either will do. The thing about the tag idea is that it's obvious from looking at the spellings whether AE or BE has been used, and the current practice is simply to follow whatever style is already dominant, which effectively means an invisible tag is in place already. But I agree with Filiocht that these things really do not matter. The important thing is getting articles well written, factually correct, and well referenced. Once we've achieved that, we can worry about color versus colour. SlimVirgin 03:03, Mar 3, 2005 (UTC)
I must take issue with you here. There would be many problems with introducing a first-major-contributor rule (at the moment it is only a "last resort", which in practice does a bit but not much for revert wars). Some problems, off the top of my head are:
1. Most Wikipedians already recognise the existing rules preceding the "last resort" case (see the MOS for a list of the existing rules).
2. How do you define "first major contributor"? (A rhetorical point here - in many cases it's not well-defined.)
3. For all our debates, there are many many articles which you can't say are in a style specific to one part of the English-speaking world. In these cases the fist major contributor has left the language style undefined. The proposed rule cannot operate in this situation.
4. Suppose the first major contributor only gives a small indication of style (say, using licence as a noun rather than license. Is it reasonable that a future major editor should be bound by one word?
5. Suppose the style of the article has changed numerous times over the article's lifetime, but is now consistent. Is it ok that a (probably disruptive) user goes back to when it was created 2 or 3 years ago, sees that it started off in a different style that they prefer, and enforces their preferences on the article on the back of it?
6. It encourages "ownership" of articles (which in itself is another cause of edit wars). The first major contributor is no more (or less) important that the next major contributor.
It's for these reasons (and more) that a new "first-major-contributor" rule would not work. It's also why I prefer a "don't change style without good reason" rule. OK, "good reason" is vague, but the onus is on the person changing the style to explain why if challenged. Note that it also means that if the style of the first major contributor subsists in any article (with the first major contributor having indicated a style), the effect of a "don't change style without good reason" is the same as a "first-major-contributor" rule, jguk 07:56, 3 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Jguk, I take issue with your wording about introducing the first-major-contributor rule (which I've just realized I've been misspelling - yikes). It has already been introduced, and is not new, and I believe it's what most editors practise, the MoS notwithstanding. I know that when I joined Wikipedia, several editors explained to me that this was the rule, and it was, and remains, how I edit. The first I heard of the "topic specific to" rule was about four weeks ago. What I would like to see is either (a) the first-major-contributOr rule extended across the board, or (b) the "topic specific to" rule defined and tightened, because as it stands it fails to denote.

I agree that it's not always clear who the first major contributor was, but it often is. In cases where it's not clear, the "topic specific to" rule could kick in. Ditto if what the first major contributor has written is unclear (e.g. in your example of there being only one word signalling the style, though in reality, punctuation would likely signal it too). I agree with you regarding your point five. Regarding your point six, the "topic specific to" rule encourages ownership by a country, which is even worse than ownership by a group of editors. If you don't like first-major-contributor, then by all means tighten "topic specific to." My main concern is that there should be a fairly narrow definition so as to avoid the notion that certain subjects or people "belong" to certain countries i.e. I would like to avoid any hint of imperialism. SlimVirgin 08:29, Mar 3, 2005 (UTC)

As with so many debates on Wikipedia, it seems to me that the focus here is on what is best for editors (avoid edit wars, provide tags for clarity, etc) rather than on what is best for readers (clearly written, factually accurate, NPOV articles worth reading). I suspect that the average reader does not give a toss what dialect (or blend of dialects) articles are written as long as they meet these reader criteria. Adding tags is not particularly litely to enhance the reader experience in any significant way, and just gives disputatious editors another topic to fight over. Filiocht 09:16, Mar 3, 2005 (UTC)
I've been asked to clarify my position, so here goes. I believe that:
  • trying to impose rules on which dialect of English should be used on a particular set of articles (e.g. along Nationalist lines) is futile.
  • the most important things about any article are that it be factually accurate, verifiable, literate and NPOV.
  • editors should write in the dialect they are most literate in.
  • applying these tags is, in effect, saying Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia anyone can edit (provided you are familiar with dialect X when editing this article).
  • these tags are both instructional creep and the privileging of editors over readers.
  • in the absence of data to the contrary, that readers are more concerned with the reliability of our data than the purity of our linguistic style.
On the whole, this probably places me in broad agreement with SlimVirgin. If there is a firm swell of anal-retentive need for a uniformity of style, I further believe that the natural process of time passing will probably bring about that result without the need for rule imposition. Finally, I rather fear that the more scholastic debate becomes here, the more irrelevant to the needs of readers (and many editors) the MoS is likely to become. Trusting that this is clear enough. Filiocht 08:33, Mar 4, 2005 (UTC)
I'm confused by the comment about 'privileging of editors over readers'. If there's a reader-correlated preference, surely it's that US readers are (somewhat) more likely to be reading articles about 'US topics (including US people), and UK readers are (somewhat) more likely to be reading the UK-related ones (etc, etc). Why, then, would we wish to elevate the 'contributorial first strike' principle to greater importance than at present? That's surely detrimental to style/topic coherence as far as the reader is concerned, and is there entirely to 'privilege' said contributor? Alai 09:13, 4 Mar 2005 (UTC)
A) I fear you are taking an overly-limited view of what people may be interested in reading, and B) I'm not supporting 'contributorial first strike', I'm saying we do not need a policy at all, we should allow each user to write in their native or learned dialect. The tags are about editors making themselves feel good, they are not about improving the accuracy or NPOV aspects of articles. Filiocht 09:26, Mar 4, 2005 (UTC)
Filiocht, it's not about imposing any style on editors. You can write in any dialect/style you want to, of course! If editors don't like the MoS, nobody can/will force them to follow it.
As SlimVirgin has said, "invisible" tags already exist anyway. For example, the article on "New York" is in U.S. English and that will not change. If you want to add content to the New York article, you can do that in any style you wish to, that's fine. But you should expect that your addition might be edited to fit the overall style of the article. And since the majority will agree that the most appropriate style for the "New York" article is indeed U.S. English you should accept such edits. Flo 13:39, 4 Mar 2005 (UTC)

People are not topics

I haven't had a response to my query of a couple of weeks ago about "people are not topics", by which I mean I'd like to add a rider to the "topics specific to a country" section that people don't count as topics unless they are office holders, in which case it's the office that is the topic, not the person. I think that's a definite weakness in the current MoS, and although the term "specific to" hasn't been defined (and needs to be), I feel it ought at least to be tightened so as to exclude the notion of ownership of persons by certain countries. SlimVirgin 04:24, Mar 3, 2005 (UTC)

SV - of course people are topics. The requirement that an article is written in a form of English used in the place where someone is most closely associated, for all its faults, is one which best helps reduce edit wars. It is also a requirement a very large number of active Wikipedians I familiar with. I know you are annoyed that Bernard Williams got tweaked into British English, and well-written, informative and easy-to-read articles are the aim of it all, but the wider edit wars we'd have with your proposed amendment to the MOS mean that it's not worth trying to impose a different standard, jguk 07:34, 3 Mar 2005 (UTC)
The current MoS doesn't specify that people are topics; all I'm asking is that that be made explicit. I did find the Bernard Williams thing absurd, and I gave in only because the editor who asked seemed to care about the issue more than I did, so I felt bad about opposing for the sake of it. But it felt odd because most of the reading I've done about Williams over the years has been in American English, including most of the material written by him for the American market, and he worked there for a number of years, and died there. And here I am at Wikipedia, the most international, borderless, cross-cultural writing project ever devised, in the whole history of the human race (imagine it!), and suddenly I'm told that because BW was born in England, when I write about him, I must do it so, and not so. There's something very sad about that. There's nothing wrong with having a house style: all publications do. But to have it based on birth or how long someone has worked in a certain country, there's something about that that gives me the shudders. The call of the mother country, even beyond the grave. Not a good thing. SlimVirgin 08:37, Mar 3, 2005 (UTC)
Actually, it's not clear that Williams ever wrote in U.S. English; I say this having had the experience of seeing my own English 'Americanised' for publication in the U.S. (by someone, incidentally, who also introduced all sorts of peculiar errors unconnected to U.S. English). It's extemely difficult for a native speaker to write well in another variant; it's not just a matter of missing the 'u's out of 'colour', etc., and however aware the writer is, there'll be mistakes that are liable to be grating to a genuine speaker (for those who are ever grated, that is...). (Oddly, it's not usually felt necessary to alter U.S. English for the British market.) Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 09:51, 3 Mar 2005 (UTC)


I remember reading that links in article's bolded titles should be avoided. ? Hyacinth 02:04, 4 Mar 2005 (UTC)

I think so, but I don't remember where. Maurreen 03:42, 4 Mar 2005 (UTC)
MoS, section 1, Article titles: "Do not put links in the title." Related to MoS, section 2, Headings: "Avoid links within headings." Break all rules and all that, but adhering to those two makes matters a lot easier on the eyes. Hajor 04:03, 4 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Doesn't this better belong in the Introduction section, since you can't put (functional) pipe-links in the actual article's title except as written in the introduction? Hyacinth 04:57, 4 Mar 2005 (UTC)


I don't know whether there was a consensus on the EU issue, which Philip reinserted. I feel we should allow individual editors to decide how to write about the EU, though clearly they should spell proper nouns the way the EU spells them if writing about or quoting an EU document. I wish I could understand this instinct for making editors do what other editors want. I admit it's sometimes necessary, but shouldn't we keep it to a minimum? What Filiocht wrote above is absolutely right: what matters is that editors produce accurate, well-written articles. SlimVirgin 07:06, Mar 4, 2005 (UTC)

PS I don't intend to keep deleting the EU thing, but I'd appreciate a decision regarding the consensus. Thanks, SlimVirgin 07:06, Mar 4, 2005 (UTC)
The most recent proposal discussed was for a package deal concerning the European Union and the Organization of American States. But possibly there was some misunderstanding. Maurreen 07:11, 4 Mar 2005 (UTC)
I didn't understand it, sorry. SlimVirgin 07:16, Mar 4, 2005 (UTC)

It was to include these (that is, both or neither):

  • Articles on European Union institutions and documents should use British and Irish usage and spelling.
  • Article on institutions and documents of the Organization for American States should not use British English. Canadian English is fine for those articles. Maurreen 07:20, 4 Mar 2005 (UTC)

The latter might clash with the "topic specific to" rule. Jamaica, for example, would have to be written about in Jamaican English, which I guess would boil down to BE. I would very much prefer to have neither of these rules. SlimVirgin 07:31, Mar 4, 2005 (UTC)

I wouldn't want to see a plethora of these rules, and I see nothing special about the OAS that should make it stand out. I don't see a particular need to have an EU rule - I'm sure most articles covered by the newly inserted text already comply with it, and that new articles will comply with it. However, the new text is not doing any harm, and once the EU constitution passes, it is the EU and not the individual members that will have sovereignty - making the EU a somewhat special case, jguk 08:05, 4 Mar 2005 (UTC)
But the constitution passing could take years, couldn't it, assuming it does pass? Or perhaps I've got it wrong. SlimVirgin 08:11, Mar 4, 2005 (UTC)
If it's to pass, it should be sometime next year, jguk 08:22, 4 Mar 2005 (UTC)
"Articles on European Union institutions and documents should use British and Irish usage and spelling". I agree with that. But I think it's not needed in the MoS. I'm quite sure there is not a single article concerning the EU, written in something other than U.K./Irish English.
And I think it's already covered by the "specific to English-speaking-country"-rule. The EU is "specific" to 25 countries. Among these 25 countries, three are English-speaking countries (English official language): UK, Ireland, Malta (all three U.K. English).
Therefore, the obvious choice is UK English anyway. Flo 14:13, 4 Mar 2005 (UTC)
I hope that there'll be no wording (as above) that includes 'should' and 'should not'. The advice should surely simply be that, when the topic relates to the E.U. or the O.A.S., that's sufficient reason to edit the article to conform to one or the other form of English. It shouldn't be wrong' for someone to create an article in her own form of English, whatever the topic. Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 19:33, 4 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Flo, UK English for UK, Ireland, and Malta: I have no problem with that. My concern is twofold: (a) that shouldn't be extended to other countries in the EU; and (b) the "topic specific to" issue remains undefined. I feel that some of the editors who want to retain that phrase ought now to define it, because this debate has been going on for weeks/months, and won't end until we have a definition; that is: what exactly is meant by a "topic specific to" a country? SlimVirgin 19:53, Mar 4, 2005 (UTC)

I agree with you, that articles about Germany or other European countries (except for the English-speaking ones) can be in any kind of English.
And you're right, there should be more clarity about the "topic-specific-to" rule.

Let's discuss it and get over with that point (see below).Flo 05:41, 5 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Revised proposal to simplify the rules on usage

Further to the discussions above, I make the proposal below. It emphasises that the important thing is to encourage good faith editors to contribute to articles - whilst at the same time giving clear rules for copyediting Wikipedians. It changes the MOS so that going forward it would allow people to use a standard form of English throughout an article as it would get rid of the unnecessary exceptions. It also has the benefit of significantly reducing the number of instructions in the MOS. (By the way, I know SV does not like (ii) - but this is effectively a restatement of what is already in the MOS, not something that's new. Yes, this proposal includes (ii), but it is not about (ii)!) The proposal is as follows:

1. Add the following instructions:

The important thing about your contribution is that you make it, not the style that you adopt to make it. Whilst it helps if your edits are in accordance with Wikipedia style, don't worry if they're not. Copyediting Wikipedians can always tidy up style issues later on. On the issue of English usage, Wikipedia style is as follows:

(i) An article should be written in one form of standard English, which should be used consistently throughout that article;

(ii) Where an article is on a topic closely-related to one part of the English-speaking world, that article should be written in a form of standard English used in that part of the English-speaking world;

(iii) If a word/phrase that is used in one form of standard English is not generally understood by speakers of another form, it should either be avoided or explained;

(iv) The form of standard English adopted by an article should not be changed without good reason.

2. Remove all instructions in the MOS that are inconsistent with the above. In particular, note that the proposal deliberate refers to forms of standard English. It is wider than just spelling, but encompasses grammar, punctuation, etc..

3. Add some off-MOS guidance on how the instructions would be followed in practice (and in some cases remove the guidance in the MOS and replace it on an off-MOS guidance page_. I think it would be important to elaborate on "good reason". "Good reasons" would include, for example, a new major editor integrating their new text with the old text; or a copy-editor coming to an article with a messy mish-mash of styles copyediting the article consistent with a style the copy-editor is familiar with (subject to (i) to (iii)).

jguk 19:15, 4 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Aside on "topics relating to" (see below for start of new discussion)

I agree that this is simpler and more elegant. I disagree with (ii). As I wrote above, "specific to" or "closely related" needs to be defined, and not simply by giving a list of examples. For you, Bernard Williams is closely related to the UK. For me, he is not. The absence of a definition means that edit disputes will not be resolved by referring to the MoS, when that is in part the point of the MoS. Therefore, we need a definition. I could try to come up with one if you like, but it won't include people. I also feel uncomfortable with saying that copy-editing Wikipedians will tidy things up, as it implies three things: (a) there is a separate category of copy-editing Wikipedias, (b) that they're in agreement with one another; and (c) that they have a special status. SlimVirgin 19:53, Mar 4, 2005 (UTC)
The disagreement with (ii) is separate from this proposal (as (ii) is already effectively what the MOS says). We can discuss (ii) elsewhere. But I will add that generally-speaking I think it would be useful to have off-MOS guidance where Wikipedians can opine on how the MOS should be interpreted in certain situations. See, for example, Wikipedia:Manual of Style (guidance). By all means suggest better wording for the intro, I wasn't sure how best to phrase it myself. I certainly don't mean any of your (a), (b) or (c). By copyediting Wikipedians I mean Wikipedians who, amongst other things, choose to copyedit articles, jguk 20:08, 4 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Jguk, I would like to have (ii) discussed, please. I came to this page a couple of weeks ago or more, and added to the MoS that individuals did not count as "topics specific to." That was deleted by, as I recall, you or Philip, and I was told that I couldn't just add it: I had to discuss it first, though I don't know why, because this page shouldn't be protected from editing. So I came here to discuss it, ever since which we've been avoiding discussing it. If we're not going to, I would like to add it to the article. If you'd rather I didn't, can we please find out who supports which definition of "topic specific to". I would like the definition to be narrow. I sense Flo would too, and Filiocht, for the avoidance of instruction creep and nationalism, perceived or real. I'm not sure where Maurreen stands. Please let's work it out. SlimVirgin 20:15, Mar 4, 2005 (UTC)
I meant don't discuss it as part of this proposal, but elsewhere on this page under a separate heading, jguk 20:42, 4 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Meaning of "Topics specific to"

SlimVirgin would like to have a discussion about what "topic specific to an English-speaking country" means. I think such a rule is needed, because the alternative: "first-major-contributor" across the board would probably not work. Many editors seem to feel strongly about national varieties, it's a cultural identity thing.
How about discussing the "scope" of this rule first and then trying to find a clear wording? Otherwise, as SlimVirgin has said, the discussion will go on and on. And far I am concerned, I think the scope should be a follows:

  • Geography/Nature: Countries (UK, U.S., Australia...), cities (London, Cape Town...), landmarks (Ayers Rock, Grand Canyon, Thames...)
  • Institutions/Buildings: Governments, universities, Big Ben, Statue of Liberty
  • Events: September 11th, Death of Lady Diana, The Great Fire of 1666, Pearl Habor
  • People: Officeholders (President Bush, Tony Blair), there seems to be consensus on this.
  • Works by "people" (whatever the scope of people will be): Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Grapes of Wrath, the Star-Spangled Banner

Now, what about non-officeholders? The wording might sound strange, but it reflects my opinion: People, who were born in and lived in one English-speaking country during the time when they did what they are famous for.

Please state your opinion on the scope of the "specific-to" rule and suggest a clear wording that explains "specific-to".Flo 05:37, 5 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Flo, first point: I don't agree that many editors feel strongly about national varieties. I think that's conjecture. Second point: I can live with most of the above. My suggested changes: (a) I would like to exclude people entirely, unless they are office holders; and (b) Include works by people only if the work is closely related to the country. Regarding people, imagine an article about Chaucer (I haven't checked whether there is one), and a rule saying that had to be in modern British English. It would be nonsensical because Chaucer's English bore little similarity to any form of English used now anywhere. It's instruction creep of the worst kind because there's no reason for it. Bear in mind that most articles about people who are closely tied to one placed are likely to be written by editors from that place anyway, so the effect will likely be what jguk wants. All I ask is that we don't make it a rule, and that if exceptions occur, we live with them. SlimVirgin 07:58, Mar 5, 2005 (UTC)

There are two aims I think any rule in this area should have. First, I think a rule should seek to minimise edit wars (both in number and in length). Second, I also think a good article should be on one style - and a rule should be guided towards this, but without putting off any potential contributor to an article.
The current approach helps both. It minimises edit wars as most people accept the rule, as it's a reasonable compromise position. It helps articles retain there style as where a topic relates specifically to one part of the world, new contributors to that article are most often from the that part of the world (as SV herself notes above).
For example, an article on an American football player is most likely to be edited by Americans familiar with American English (though contributions from anyone would be welcome). Similarly, an article on a British soap opera actor is most likely to be edited by Brits familiar with British English (though contributions from anyone would be welcome).
Now the existing approach is not ideal, but the problems in applying it in practice, whilst there, are few. I haven't yet seen a better alternative proposal that would better achieve what I think the twin aims are, jguk 08:29, 5 Mar 2005 (UTC)
The issue as I see it here, Jguk, is that I made an edit (people are not topics; and the EU should not use BE), had it deleted, and was told to come to talk to seek consensus. You're arguing, however, that the version you like should stay in its entirety, and that none of my suggestions should stick. I'm prepared to compromise, even though I'd like to see the whole section thrown out because it's instruction creep. But I'm asking to be allowed to add one "people are not topics" sentence. I do ask for some compromise on your part, in an effort to reach consensus. I would also like to delete that copy-editing Wikipedians will make articles conform to the MoS, because it's not true of all copy-editing Wikipedians; it also suggests there is a special class of copy editors with special powers to overrule what other editors want, and neither of these things is true either. SlimVirgin 09:12, Mar 5, 2005 (UTC)
Whilst I think that people are topics, I also think it is true that not every person is "closely related" to a particular part of the world - particularly as many people enjoy dual nationalities, change nationalities, emigrate, etc. Maybe a note to such an effect would be a reasonable compromise?
On the phraseology of "copyediting Wikipedians", I'd be happy for you to edit the proposal to remove the phrase. My intention is to say - edit how you like, but as this is Wikipedia style - please don't revert editors who tweak articles in line with it. And sensible phrasing which makes the point will get my support. Also - my proposal would mean the removal of lots of contradictory instructions on the MOS - if accepted, a lot of instruction creep would be removed. I'd also like to see all the bullet points Flo mentions relegated to an off-MOS guidance page (so that the comments only have the status of - this is how WPians have interpreted the MOS) rather than have them as MOS rules in the first place, jguk 10:18, 5 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Seconding Filiocht

This paragraph from Filiocht is copied here from above. Maurreen 06:59, 5 Mar 2005 (UTC)

As I indicate below, I think this is an inordinate level of debate on a relatively trivial issue. Will insisting on a given dialect in a given article improve the factual accuracy or NPOV of that article? No. Will insisting on a rule tend to make some potential editors feel excluded? Yes. So where's the benifit to Wikipedia? I cannot see it. I write on Irish, British and American subjects in my own dialect of written English and no rules, tags, etc will make me equally literate in another dialect. If enforced (which I feel is unlikely) They'll either cause me to stop working on articles like, say The Cantos or I'll just ignore them. Filiocht 09:46, Mar 4, 2005 (UTC)

I agree at least with the spirit of Filiocht. We've had a lot of discussion, and I doubt how much it has accomplished. I'd like to suggest that we give the issue of national varieties of English and all related proposals for changing the style guide a rest of at least a month. (Although there is one that I think should rest for longer, but I'd rather not get into that now.) Maurreen 06:59, 5 Mar 2005 (UTC)

I also support what Filiocht says, and s/he makes an important point. Serious editors (and Filiocht is one) will not pay attention to this rule, and by including it we will tend to marginalize the MoS even further. SlimVirgin 09:19, Mar 5, 2005 (UTC)
So I will vote with my feet. Have a good life, all of you. Maurreen 09:37, 5 Mar 2005 (UTC)
I don't get the 'enforcement' argument at all. It's not like there aren't rules at present; it's not as if anyone is proposing abolishing them, either. So why is a discussion of one rule vs. another to be characterised in enforcement terms? SV seems to be making some appeal to the idea that changing an article's language convention is enforcement, in way that establishing that it must remain the same is not; but that seems an unreasonable distinction to me. And such moves already happen, often seemingly arbitrarily: if you're proposing that some rules be introduced that stops this happening, how do you then, well, enforce that? Alai 04:37, 7 Mar 2005 (UTC)
But these are not rules, the MoS is not policy; talking about them as if they were rules is counter-productive. I'd say that Maurreen's one-month rest proposal is very sensible and might let people get this whole 'tempest in a teacup' into perspective. Filiocht 15:16, Mar 7, 2005 (UTC)
Just to confuse matters, it's listed under key policies on the utilities page, and under guidelines on Wikipedia:Policies and guidelines: I'm guessing the latter's indeed the more likely to be correct. OK, so for 'rules' read 'guidelines' throughout: at any rate it's not being proposed to make them any more binding, enforceable, etc (at least as I understand it). Alai 04:16, 10 Mar 2005 (UTC)
It's just that some of the guidelines are perceived by some as too extensive, Alai, and they're causing a degree of resentment, because some editors (a small number, admittedly) do try to enforce them; so it's a question of finding a delicate balance between having some guidelines and having them respected, and not having so many that people stop paying any attention. I'm arguing against enforcement, just to make that clear. And you're right: it's not policy. Anyway, I have also decided to take a break from this talk page, so I'm thirding Maurreen and Filiocht's proposal. ;-) SlimVirgin 04:31, Mar 10, 2005 (UTC)

General disagreements

For the record, I disagree with most of the proposals. I suggested the EU and OAS deal as a compromise. I think the style guide already has a good compromise and consensus. And I think that edit wars can be avoided by people acting like grownups, not by changing the style guide. Maurreen 09:28, 5 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Philip, I removed the EU thing until we find out about the OAS issue, which Maurreen would like, and which I'd agree to as a compromise. I feel we should look at that whole section as a package rather than discussing separate points because (a) it will go on too long otherwise and (b) the points interact. I'd also like to say that I don't understand the attitude that it's apparently okay for Philip and Jguk to make an edit, but I'm not allowed to; can we please either all be allowed to edit, or all asked to wait - I don't mind which so long as we're all treated the same. Finally, I would also agree to Maurreen's suggestion of giving it a rest for a month. Philip and Jguk, would you rather try to reach an agreement or take a break? Jguk, I'm in agreement with much of the proposal you put forward: is there any wording of the people-are-not-topics issue (a diluted wording) that you'd agree to? SlimVirgin 10:09, Mar 5, 2005 (UTC)
The issue as I see it here, Jguk, is that I made an edit (people are not topics; and the EU should not use BE), had it deleted, and was told to come to talk to seek consensus. You're arguing, however, that the version you like should stay in its entirety, and that none of my suggestions should stick. I'm prepared to compromise, even though I'd like to see the whole section thrown out because it's instruction creep. But I'm asking to be allowed to add one "people are not topics" sentence. I do ask for some compromise on your part, in an effort to reach consensus. I would also like to delete that copy-editing Wikipedians will make articles conform to the MoS, because it's not true of all copy-editing Wikipedians; it also suggests there is a special class of copy editors with special powers to overrule what other editors want, and neither of these things is true either. SlimVirgin 09:12, Mar 5, 2005 (UTC)
Whilst I think that people are topics, I also think it is true that not every person is "closely related" to a particular part of the world - particularly as many people enjoy dual nationalities, change nationalities, emigrate, etc. Maybe a note to such an effect would be a reasonable compromise?

Agreed. It's just a question of finding the right wording. SlimVirgin 10:38, Mar 5, 2005 (UTC)

On the phraseology of "copyediting Wikipedians", I'd be happy for you to edit the proposal to remove the phrase. My intention is to say - edit how you like, but as this is Wikipedia style - please don't revert editors who tweak articles in line with it. And sensible phrasing which makes the point will get my support. Also - my proposal would mean the removal of lots of contradictory instructions on the MOS - if accepted, a lot of instruction creep would be removed. I'd also like to see all the bullet points Flo mentions relegated to an off-MOS guidance page (so that the comments only have the status of - this is how WPians have interpreted the MOS) rather than have them as MOS rules in the first place, jguk 10:18, 5 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Agreed. Thank you. I will agree to the EU institutions and documents edit, though I think Maurreen would like it to be tied to the OAS being given the same status, but I'm easy on that issue myself. SlimVirgin 10:38, Mar 5, 2005 (UTC)

No one is suggesting that anyone should be stopped from writing an article on anything in any dialect of English they wish to. The debate is whether for the rest of time that article has to remain in that dialect or can it be changed to another without starting an edit war. The "facts on the ground", to use a phrase from International relations, is that the article will be co-edited to conform to a national dialect if the article is related to a specific English speaking nation. To reduce copy edit reversal wars, the "Manual of Style" (MoS) gives some guidance on this. Until SlimVirgin came along and at first argued against the "National varieties of English" (NVoE) and for the supremacy of "primary author", most people who "watch" the MoS page seemed to recognise the facts on the ground that "National varieties of English" has precedence, and broadly agreed that the MoS should give guidance in this area to reduce edit wars. It appears to me that now that she recognises that most people (who watch the page) do not agree that the primary author rule is paramount, she is suggesting that the rules for NVoE are defined more clearly than they are. I think that they can not be too specific and can only be used as a general guidance. For those topics where it is not clear if a specific national style applies, then the policy will have to be worked out on the talk pages of those topics. For no matter how precisely the rules are drawn up, there will always be cases on the margin that will have to be decided on their specific merits.

At the moment SlimVirgin is focusing on biographies. The trouble with this area is that although domicilety is often obvious, where it is not, it is a nightmare (ask any tax inspector). This means that the large majority of all biographies the style which in the long term will be adopted under the "National varieties of English" is not an issue. For the 10% where it is a problem (Eg Thomas Paine) it will have to be resolved on the talk pages of the biography and it will probably be resolved by the first major contributor rule.

Geoffrey Chaucer is one example which has been dragged into this argument and I would say that this is a borderline case (although many will argue for NVoE) that it has to be decided on the talk page of Chaucer, because if I use another example of Emily Bronte, then in the long run it will almost certainly remain under NVoE (even if the primary author wrote it in AE) as a "fact on the ground" whether "National varieties of English" is specified in the MoS or not. Philip Baird Shearer 10:42, 5 Mar 2005 (UTC)

I agree with you, Philip. I'd like to see flexibility and commonsense prevail. My only concern was the individuals "belonging" to a certain country thing. Jguk and I have agreed to compromise on that issue, by adding a sentence that some individuals may have lived or worked in more than one place, have dual nationality, and so on. It's not as much as I wanted, but I'm prepared to compromise, so it looks like we have a deal. SlimVirgin 10:55, Mar 5, 2005 (UTC)

As no one has yet come up with an authoritative source arguing that there is no pooled sovereignty in the EU. I am going to reinstate the line.

PS I don't intend to keep deleting the EU thing, but I'd appreciate a decision regarding the consensus. Thanks, SlimVirgin 07:06, Mar 4, 2005 (UTC) I will agree to the EU institutions and documents edit, though I think Maurreen would like it to be tied to the OAS being given the same status, but I'm easy on that issue myself. SlimVirgin 10:38, Mar 5, 2005 (UTC)

-- Philip Baird Shearer 11:30, 5 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Can I just say "tempest in a teacup"? -- Jmabel | Talk 20:12, Mar 5, 2005 (UTC)

afterthoughts? -- H.B.T.

Standardizing presentation of article title translations

I've seen a few different conventions used:

  1. Igor Fyodorovitch Stravinsky (Russian: Игорь Фёдорович Стравинский)
    • '''Igor Fyodorovitch Stravinsky''' ([[Russian language|Russian]]: '''{{lang|ru|<!-- name in russian -->}}''')
  2. Igor Fyodorovitch Stravinsky (Russian Игорь Фёдорович Стравинский)
    • '''Igor Fyodorovitch Stravinsky''' ([[Russian language|Russian]] <font lang="ru"><!-- name in russian --></font>)
  3. Igor Fyodorovitch Stravinsky (Игорь Фёдорович Стравинский)
    • '''Igor Fyodorovitch Stravinsky''' (<!-- name in russian -->)

Note there are three items being varied:

  1. Language name. Either with a colon, without, or omitted completely. Some people also italicize the language name, but I didn't include that here to make things less complicated.
  2. Bolding foreign language name.
  3. Method of marking up translation with language code. Either with HTML, Template:Lang, or nothing at all.

I feel that this should be standardized for the same reason dates of birth and death are standardized: it is a common element across many Wikipedia pages.

My preference is shown in example no. 1 above:

  1. Always give language name with a colon. Don't italicize it: the colon sets it off enough.
  2. Bold the foreign language name, as it's an alternate title. It doesn't matter if there's actually a redirect or not.
  3. Use the lang template. Semantics are good, but we should strive to keep as much HTML out of the articles as possible.

– flamurai (t) 01:15, Mar 6, 2005 (UTC)

I like to make the name a link to article on another language wikipedia if it exists eg: '''Battle of Hurtgen Forest''' ([[German language|German]]: ''[[:de:Allerseelenschlacht|Schlacht im Hürtgenwald]]'')

--Philip Baird Shearer 03:13, 6 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Which would give you: German: Schlacht im Hürtgenwald -- that's pretty neat. Think I'll adopt that; thanks. Hajor 03:37, 7 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Usage and spelling

Doesn't i.e. in English stand for "that is" not "such as"? – AxSkov 13:32, 7 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Yes, that is its meaning. Id est. "Such as" would be "e.g.", exemplar gratis (literally "free example"). -- Jmabel | Talk 19:01, Mar 7, 2005 (UTC)

The manual recommends British-style punctuation on US topics??!?!

Where on Earth did people writing the style manual come up with the idea that all articles should use British-standards of punctuation, even on explicitly U.S. topics? I refer here to the sections on quotation marks and serial commas. We follow the spellings of the country of the topic, but not the punctuation? That makes no sense at all. I would strongly encourage that we standardize on the rules used by the appropriate country for topics about that country, both for fairness reasons and for not teaching our readers bad habits. OH,and not to mention that following these rules would mean every US-article would always have major errors for anyone reading it: US readers would see screwed up punctuation and International English readers would see nonstandard spelling. A style decision that guarantees an article is going to be wrong for everyone who reads it is just plain useless. DreamGuy 22:50, Mar 13, 2005 (UTC)

DreamGuy, please see my proposal above, which, if implemented, would get rid of this problem in its most general form. Perhaps you would like to add your support/constructive comments, jguk 23:22, 13 Mar 2005 (UTC)
Consider these my supportive/constructive comments. But then if the above says that articles about US topics written erroneously using British rules because someone British first started the article, or vice versa with a British topic using US rules, that part is nonsense. It should conform to the country of that topic when thetopic is clear. I did a lot of edits to Jack the Ripper, for instance, and when someone came and said that that's not how they use certain words and punctuation there, I said, fine, I don't know how you were taught, change it to that. If I had insisted that it stay with American rules I would be imposing my rules on another country, which is wrong. DreamGuy 23:41, Mar 13, 2005 (UTC)
jguk, I don't follow how it addresses this. the MoS has only one set of punctuation rules. It has two (or so) sets of spelling rules (US and British/International ones), and a set of "meta-rules" (topics specifics to a given country, generally acceptable usages, first major contributor, etc) as to which to use. Aren't you proposing to change the latter set of (meta-)rules? If you plan on expanding the scope to include things, that there's a unitary rule for at the moment, you should say so explicitly. (I suppose these are all strictly speaking "guidelines", if none of the MoS is policy as such.) Alai 00:01, 14 Mar 2005 (UTC)
Punctuation and quoting style is just that: style. There are common conventions that are often followed in the US or UK, but they're not universal, and using a different convention isn't an error. I don't feel strongly about it, but it seems to me that the UK convention is more explicit, requires fewer exceptions for special cases, and is closer to how programmers and computer people often write, anyway. Michael Z. 2005-03-14 00:44 Z
Ugh, the US punctuation rules are rules, not mild suggestions that people feel free to violate. If you write a paper for school or write a book, like, say, an encyclopedia, and you do it any other way, it's wrong. It is an error. The fact that computer programmers are notoriously bad at grammar and spelling should not be used as an indication that an encyclopedia should start following their style. If that were the case we should just give up and require everyone to make plurals out of everything by adding an apostrophe and an s and go with L33tspeak spellings. The "computer people" can make contributions all they want, but they ought to let the people who understand spelling and grammar to clean up after them instead of arguing with them. DreamGuy 01:40, Mar 14, 2005 (UTC)
Far be it for the likes of us to argue with you and your dreadfully impressive understanding. It's just too bad that some incompetent rule-breakers like George Orwell, George Bernard Shaw, and Gertrude Stein didn't have you to clean up after them, too. Michael Z. 2005-03-14 06:27 Z
Non-contemporary UK authors using non-contemporary British rules wouldn't be breaking their rules, so that argument makes no sense. I'm sorry, you aren't even trying to support your side with logical reasons, you are just assuming British rules are better than the US ones in general and being rude about it on top of it. That's not support for your side, that's evidence that your opinion is based solely on bias. DreamGuy 06:49, Mar 14, 2005 (UTC)
Those are examples of famous British and American authors who broke a lot of their their contemporaries' "rules" of punctuation, including ones that are still conventional. I'm not assuming any rules are better than others; I'm saying your assertion that they must be followed slavishly is wrong, and I'm sure most writers would disagree with you.
Sorry for my tone, but I thought your highbrowed implication that computer programmers and technical writers were illiterate was rude. In many contexts there are good stylistic and practical reasons to diverge from convention. To do so is not automatically an error. For example, from Quotation mark:
In some subject areas (such as software documentation and chemistry), it is conventional to include only what is part of the quoted phrase within the quotes, for clarity:
Enter the URL as “”, the name as “Wikipedia”, and click "OK".
Publishers adopt style guides that are appropriate to their publications. It makes sense for Wikipedia to do so, and there's nothing wrong with using essentially British punctuation conventions when they are easy for volunteer editors to apply and will avoid confusion in thousands of technical articles. Michael Z. 2005-03-17 19:37 Z

Re "British-style punctuation". Up until 28 December of last year, the MoS described its guideline as "splitting the difference" between UK and US usages: punctuation inside or outside according to sense (per British rules), but preferring "double" quotation marks to 'single' ones (per American practice). Sounds like the original framers were trying to strike a compromise between the two, and it's a shame that language was lost from the Manual. Hajor 04:15, 14 Mar 2005 (UTC)

The WP-mandated serial comma is also something of an Americanism, if we're keeping score. (Though also popular with Lynne Truss, Oxfordians, and other pedants. Well, some pedants, as I don't personally care for it...) Alai 05:51, 14 Mar 2005 (UTC)
Two points: first, the current MoS says that spelling and "usage" of a country should be used in articles "specific to" that country. That ought to include punctuation. The MoS is just a bit inconsistent here. Second, the MoS is a guideline, not policy, so no one should be changing people's commas or quotation marks. Even though when I last looked the MoS advocated the use of the serial comma, I never add serial commas to British-related articles (although the serial comma is used in the UK, there are lots of British writers who don't like them). It's best to use commonsense and be sensitive to the views of the editors who've spent most time on the page, as well as to the topic. SlimVirgin 06:58, Mar 14, 2005 (UTC)
I don't think "usage" covers punctuation. It may not be terribly consistent per se, but it says what it says, and says it fairly clearly. Your interpretation of "not policy" seems to be in essence to ignore it entirely. Aren't the guidelines guidance for among other things, copy-editting? If it's not a good idea to edit text to make it conform better (well, more, at least) to the MoS, why have it at all? Bin the whole thing and just have "holding the ring" policies for the on-going edit-warring between US and non-US copy? (I suppose that the latter is probably a practical necessity anyway, on the evidence.) Sensitivity to both of those things is certainly a good idea, but some clarity about what's an ultimately desirable goal would be very useful. Alai 07:41, 14 Mar 2005 (UTC)
Further to the comment above by Hajor, I agree that the "splitting the difference" explanation should be retained. Was it removed on substantive grounds, or simply to make the passage shorter? JamesMLane 09:18, 14 Mar 2005 (UTC)
I'm not sure why it was removed. Statement of intent: I plan to put it back shortly, unless I'm loudly shouted at and convinced otherwise in this thread. Hajor 14:57, 15 Mar 2005 (UTC)
Alai, I do follow the MoS. It says: "Writers are not required to follow all or any of these rules ..." SlimVirgin 09:23, Mar 14, 2005 (UTC)
Yes, but it does not say: "don't copy-edit to conform to this style", as you suggest. Nor does it say "vigorously revert such edits if they displease you", which seems to be a practice that gets justified by this same "it's not policy" argument. (On occasion justifying this in terms of the "first major contributor" or the "national variety of English" rules... to be found in the very same non-policy document.) Alai 09:28, 14 Mar 2005 (UTC)
That's right. It's not policy. People shouldn't be going around changing commas from one style to another. It leads to revert wars over trivia. We shouldn't be pedants and I assume you're not arguing in favor of pedantry. All that has happened because of the pedantry of a very small number is that the MoS has fallen into disrepute. Someone lost an adminship nomination recently in part because of his habit of going around changing articles to conform with the MoS, which he was doing on a large scale and insensitively. Sensitivity and commonsense are the keys here. SlimVirgin 09:42, Mar 14, 2005 (UTC)
Over the past twenty-odd years I've taught countless students from around the world, including hundreds of visiting U.S. students from different universities. The only constant with regard to punctuation and style is theat there's no constant. Some of the more pugnacious ones insist that they're using 'U.S. punctuation' because that's what they were taught at school, but they're at odds with others, equally pugnacious, who were taught differently at different schools. For example, I've recently had a rash of U.S. students putting footnote numbers inside quotation marks — because that's what they were told to do at High School; some of them would be prepare to argue the case (on 'U.S.–U.K.' grounds), but their U.S. fellow-students are able to point out that it's not in fact a matter of geography or culture, but some ill-educated High-School teachers. (I might add that I don't have that problem with British students, because they're not taught anything at school any more.)
The point is that there are three issues regarding punctuation: tradition/rules, matching to speech patterns, and logic. Some variations are irrelevant to the last two, in which case they rarely matter at all. Because speech patterns (especially the places where people pause in sentences) vary widely, there's little point arguing about that either. Logic's a different matter. For example, putting the footnote number inside quotation marks is daft, because the number isn't part of the quotation. The same goes for other punctuation marks: if the original text didn't end with a full stop, then it can be misleading to put one inside the quotation marks. The serial comma is the same; some people seem to have an emotional response to it (which I don't understand), but its omission can and often does lead to momentary puzzlement or worse, whereas creating examples where its inclusion causes problems is an exercise in surrealism. Why not forget this silly (and mostly bogus) business about U.S. versus U.K. punctuation, and concentrate on clear and unambiguous communication? Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 10:58, 14 Mar 2005 (UTC)
Hear, hear!
Clarity is this Manual's purpose, not nationalistic chest-beating.
James F. (talk) 11:56, 14 Mar 2005 (UTC)
Seconded. SlimVirgin 12:04, Mar 14, 2005 (UTC)
OMG ME TOO!!! Seriously, I agree. The way the MOS deals with punctuation and quotes just makes sense. --SPUI (talk) 12:29, 14 Mar 2005 (UTC)
And I agree also. Maurreen 02:22, 15 Mar 2005 (UTC)

The manual recommends US style headers Start the first word and any proper nouns in headings with a capital letter, but leave the rest of the heading lower case. Personally I have no problem with this because it is within the range of what is acceptable in Commonwealth/International English and although it is not a universal rule in C/I. E., it helps to give Wikipedia a more standard look. I would hope that A.E. practitioners can accept that the looser C/I English punctuation if they come across it in an article. Spelling is another matter because spelling color and colour does not really lend its self to a literate compromise. Angels dancing on a pinheads come to mind over this discussion. Philip Baird Shearer 13:35, 14 Mar 2005 (UTC)

But in what sense is this U.S. style for headings? Any publishing house or journal has a house style, and the variety of such styles is dizzying. I'd be very surprised if the Wikipedia style of headings weren't at least as common in the U.K. as in the U.S. (I've done a quick and unscientific bit of research, and in fact the Wikipedia style proved to be by far the most common in the U.K.-published books at which I looked, including those from C.U.P., Routledge, Blackwell, and Pan; only O.U.P. used all initial capitals, though that style was used by many U.S.-published books, including those from Open Court, Duke U.P., Prentice-Hall, and Paragon House.) Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 14:01, 14 Mar 2005 (UTC)