Letters – Issue 19

Intervening edition

Barbara Mabbett’s review of the Style Book (June 1995) makes some pertinent criticisms, as well as some others that I think arguable, or indeed contradictory, but they should be apparent to discerning readers of her review. Of more concern to me are two false impressions she gives (given her experience in the field, they are unlikely to be wrong assumptions), which result in the book being seriously misrepresented.

The first impression is that the new edition is the immediate successor of the 1981 edition. In fact, the book was reviewed in 1991 and given the title “The New Zealand Style Book”. It was that edition which attempted to institutionalise the wide audience that the original title (the Government Printing Office Style Book) had achieved, only it did so in a rather haphazard and incomplete fashion. It was that version to which we were primarily responding, drawing back from the “comprehensive, nationwide audience” that Mabbett claims we were aiming for in our edition: for example, by taking “New Zealand” out of the title and giving it a very subsidiary reference in the subtitle – merely to clearly identify the fact that the book has New Zealand content. At the same time, we were attempting to plug some of the gaps that had opened up in the 1991 edition (not always adequately, as Mabbett helpfully points out). These matters are fully documented in the introduction.

The second, and perhaps more crucial, impression that the review gives is that the readership intended for our edition is confined to writers (and editors) who are associated, or hope to be associated, with an established publishing house, which would give them access to house rules and so on, and allow a style book such as ours to concentrate on a narrower and more specified range of matters. This seems to me to suggest precisely the elitist conception of “writers” and “editors” that we were endeavouring to get away from. Rather, our audience includes such groups as students, secretaries, English teachers, and report writers (and editors) of various kinds, many of whom will be producing text through desktop publishing on an individual firm basis; and the book is being marketed accordingly. I believe that the Style Book also has a usefulness for professional writers and editors working in New Zealand, given its incorporation of local conventions, Maori conventions, etc., but its overall value to these people will be clearly secondary to a more detailed reference on all aspects of book production, such as the Chicago manual.

One final, if minor, point. It could be a compliment (though Barbara Mabbett does not seem to intend it as such) that the one example she provides of a typographical error in the new edition is not from the main text but from a sample of marked up text where it (along with others) was deliberately placed to acknowledge the fallibility of all copyeditors (as well as computer spell checks – which, incidentally, were not used on this publication). Most of these errors are shown to have been picked up in a subsequent proof of the same text (with one exception: can you spot it, Barbara?).

Derek Wallace, Wellington


Guides for users

Might I raise a frankly interested voice in defence of the Stylebook, reviewed in your June number, taking issue not so much with what was said as what was omitted. Potential users of a reference work need to know three things to judge its likely suitability for their purposes: its scope, and the soundness and accessibility of the information it offers. Your reviewer covered only the first one any way thoroughly, and the last not at all. This would matter less had she not implied a judgement on all three by suggesting a user would be equally well served by earlier versions of the book for most purposes. I have to dispute this, for reasons relating to accuracy and access.

Our revision left little untouched. We corrected dozens of factual errors, omissions and confusions, especially in technical area such as scientific and bibliographic conventions.

As for accessibility, we clarified the wording of most entries and the arrangement of many. We also eliminated the assumption of a prior knowledge of grammar, which must have frustrated many would‑be users. And we replaced the brief, inaccurate and haphazard index with an exhaustive one (was the vastly greater length not obvious?).

Take a query to the new Stylebook and you may indeed find “little that is new” in the sense that it was not previously dealt with at all; but we believe that you’re more likely than before to find the answer accurate and comprehensible and – indeed to find it at all.

Janet Hughes, Wellington



Jim Eagles “read a few samples” of poetry by Murray Edmond and Michele Leggott and, in what he concedes to be his “ignorant way”, dismissed them as “a load of old rubbish.” He is entitled to his opinion and to his ignorance.

He goes on to claim that “Auckland University publishes poems by its own staff … and also makes their poems required reading for courses” and he judges this situation “incestuous”.

It is true that Auckland University Press publishes books by University of Auckland staff as well as by other people. I know of no academic press anywhere in the world that refuses to publish any books by members of its own institution. At Auckland as elsewhere decisions on whether to accept or decline manuscripts depend on referees’ reports.

With novelists as distinguished as Albert Wendt and Witi Ihimaera in the English Department, we would be irresponsible to exclude from our New Zealand literature courses all books by members of staff. However, no volume of poems by either Murray Edmond or Michele Leggott has ever been a prescribed text (“required reading”) in a University of Auckland English course. Edmond is represented in the Oxford and Penguin anthologies of New Zealand verse that have been prescribed over the years and Leggott is represented in more recent anthologies. Also, Edmond and Leggott have sometimes participated in readings, talks and discussions designed to interest students in the concerns of practising poets and handouts for New Zealand literature courses have occasionally included a few of their poems: we encourage students to read as widely as possible among New Zealand poets and to focus on the works they find most congenial.

If a member of Eagles’s family supposed that sharing the lecturers’ likes and dislikes was prerequisite for passing an English course, he or she was badly mistaken.

Mac Jackson, Auckland

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