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 by Dr. Ken Howell

In memoriam – Ken Howell, Editor

In memoriam - Ken Howell, Editor

Twenty-some years ago, several of us tried to launch an ambitious new gun-and-hunting magazine called Hunt.  I was going to be its Editor and publisher.  I contacted a very select bunch of my writer friends, and I scouted the woods for all the new and uncultivated writing talent that I could find.  I also polled a huge number of people who had long-term subscriptions to outdoor magazines, to learn what kinds of material that they preferred to read.  To make life easier and richer for us all, I sat down to write a writers’ guide to the kinds of material that I wanted and the prose style that would be the standard “flavor” of our magazine.  That guide grew ‘way beyond the single page that I intended — to sixteen or more typed pages — and was enormously influenced by the huge percentage of returns that I got from my poll.  That magazine never got off the ground.  Neither did another magazine that I later tried to help a former friend to launch.  While we were still trying to launch it, I changed the name of the magazine in my writers’ guide and again sent copies of it to a bunch of writers.  With the fervent hope that this third try will see Smokelore soar high and long, and develop powerful wings, here again are (a) my introduction to the reader whom we’re publishing our magazine for and (b) most of the “style” part of that old writers’ guide, modified only slightly to make it fit the broader coverage of Smokelore and shortened a bit to keep it from being as unwieldy as the whole thing would be (it’s still more than eight thousand words long, even after I’ve dropped several pages that are in the original version.  By comparison, a typical article in a print magazine is only about 1,500 to 2,000 words).

TO ENJOY and to continue my reading, I expect the writer of anything that I’m reading to appreciate and respect me as a reader.  I’m sure that you expect or even demand the same appreciation and respect from any writer whose article or story that you hope to get anything worth while out of.  The person who reads Smokelore expects no less from you, if Smokelore publishes your article or story.

At least fifty (probably closer to a hundred) of my friends over the last fifty-several years have been outdoor writers.  I like and admire all but a sorry half dozen or so, but I’ve noticed that very few of even the best ones seem to have any glimmer of positive feeling toward their readers.  Few seem to be aware of how crucial their readers’ respect, credulity, and loyalty really are to the success of their careers and even their skill as writers.  By the very nature of their craft, they know only a few if any of their readers but know — personally — many of the folks who represent the companies whose products and services that those writers write about.  Human nature makes writing to please your friends much easier than writing to please anonymous masses whom you “know” only as distant, invisible, and indescribable statistics.

Many years ago, a very wise adviser gave me a priceless tip — think of your reader as one person, get to know him as well as you possibly can, and aim everything that you write toward him as if you and were chatting in your living room.  So I’ve long made it a finely focused personal and professional point to get as closely acquainted with as many of my readers as I can, mainly for the great blessing and satisfaction that it is to have so many good friends of their high caliber but also to absorb as much as I can about their quirks, their tastes, and their preferences.  My immediate appreciation of that wise advice so many years ago has blossomed wider and deeper through the years.  It is integral to, inseparable from, any ability and success that I may develop as a writer.

I go to gun shows, shoots, and trade shows mainly to see people, not products, so when my product-oriented friends there ask me the inevitable question “Have you seen anything here that you can’t live without?” my answer has always been “Yeah, but they’re all too young or married.”  My friends never have enough guns or get enough opportunities to hunt, to shoot, or to fish.  I’ll never have enough of good reader friends and will never know enough of my readers to suit me.  Friends aren’t expendable, and a writer’s friendly readers are by far his greatest asset.  Get as closely and intimately acquainted with your reader as you can, write to him, and you’ll become a better writer — I guarantee it.  No reader feels drawn to the work of a writer who’s distant, detached, or stand-offish.  A writer’s distant, stand-offish attitude toward his unseen readers strongly suggests to the reader that the writer is also inadequately interested in the very thing that he’s writing about.

The person who reads Smokelore is not a mindless, gullible, anonymous bleeb out there, somewhere among The Great Unwashed.  It’s a mistake to take him for granted and far worse to scorn or to resent him as a necessary nuisance, a boob, a barbarian, a blob, or a snob, or to dismiss him as an insignificant statistic.  He, or maybe she, isn’t a statistic or a group.  It’s vital that you consider him to be both sensitive and perceptive — much more acutely and finely tuned, in fact, than the most militant antihunter, and very likely to know as much about your subject as you know — if not more.  And there’s a lot more of both he and she readers than there are ad managers and reps at the ad agencies and their client companies.  But as you write, you don’t want to think of them as “they,” not even as “him,” but as a singular “you.”  To have any success in writing for Smokelore, then, you have to appreciate and respect him and his tastes and interests.  If you hanker to write for Smokelore, let me tell you something about the person whom you’re writing to.

  • He is or seriously aspires and strives to be a master of his favorite outdoor sport — hunting birds, small game, local or distant big game, or fishing.
  • When he isn’t out there himself, he enjoys hearing and reading about others’ field experiences and is eager to learn whatever he can learn from (or be amused by) the adventures, successes, failures, advice, warnings, and useful tips from others whose knowledge and judgement he respects.
  • He enjoys action, excitement, pathos, suspense, irony, humor, comedy, crisp mastery of prose style, and of course down-right practical information in the literature that he reads.
  • “He” is often a woman.  I use the linguistically masculine words man, he, him, and his in the traditionally proper, classically correct asexual generic sense for men, women, boys, and girls.  I consider the awkward, intrusive, politically “correct” forms “he (or she)” and “he/she” as linguistic abominations that I refuse to use in my own writing and eliminate from the manuscripts that I edit.

(I’m neither a chauvinist nor a feminist, just a plain old egalitarian who delights in the fact that hunting and fishing are as truly and thoroughly egalitarian as any other activity known to man.  And although I’m not a master outdoorsman myself, I’ve noticed that all of the master outdoorsmen whom I’ve known feel exactly the same.)

Well, maybe I’m tainted with a tinge of both chauvinism and feminism, because I also delight in noticing that the women of the outdoors are usually smarter and lovelier than those frumpy females who despise hunting and fishing.  And I feel absolutely no shame for this admitted personal bias but prefer to call it appreciation or taste.  Outdoorsmen appreciate all kinds of genuine treasures.

  • Whether he hunts for a trophy, for meat, for thrills, or for all three — or doesn’t hunt at all — he understands and values the ecology, the ethics, the aesthetics, and the economics of hunting and fishing as well as he cherishes their challenges, their satisfactions, and their thrills.  He never fails as a hunter, even though he may sometimes end a season with his rifle still mute and his tags still intact.
  • He is a stable, balanced man (or a woman, remember!) who appreciates and respects the tangential divergence of those who hunt or fish honorably with legal methods and for respectable reasons that are different from his own (including, for example, the sometimes necessary control hunting, ranch hunting, and hunting over baits, with hounds, or from blinds or tree stands).  If he isn’t yet an adult, he’s in the serious process of becoming one and beginning to think like one.
  • He can enjoy hunts that “fail” in the nonhunter’s or lesser “hunter’s” eyes, and he deplores “successful” hunts that are in some way dishonorable. He has little patience or tolerance for puffery, fakery, or phoniness of any kind — about as much as he tolerates egoism or affectations.
  • He can (and often does) do for himself all that must be done to get ready for and then to undertake a hunting or fishing trip into territory that’s unfamiliar to him when he first decides to hunt or fish there, though it will have become fairly well known to him by the time of his actual hunting or fishing trip.  He needs no guide or outfitter to be sure of a good trip, though he may use their help for efficiency, practicality, convenience, or pleasure — or because the local hunting regulations require that he have a licensed guide to hunt in that area. He may guide his fellow hunters unless they too are his peers in hunting lore. He is likely to be the local “authority” whom other hunters, shooters, fishermen, and handloaders in his neighborhood look up to as their more knowledgeable colleague.

Now — assuming that you want to write to the Smokelore reader whom I’ve just described — let me give you some idea of the prose style that you can expect to see in the material that I edit for publication.  Don’t let anything in this writers’ guide bother you or discourage you if you hanker to write to the Smokelore reader.  I won’t expect you to incorporate all of the “dos” or to omit all of the “don’ts” that I’ve described in this long guide.  It’s my job as Editor to massage each article or story into the right Smokelore shape, and I don’t mind doing it to make the writer look his best in public print.  This guide therefore has just two purposes: (a) to enable you to strive to write in good Smokelore style if you’re so inclined, and (b) to enable you to understand why I may have to make certain style changes in any manuscript that you send me before I can use it in Smokelore.  I hope, too, that you find this guide useful, interesting, and edifying all by itself.

STYLE MEANS one thing to writers, plus something more to the editor.  A writer’s style is the stamp of his personality on his writing, as easy to recognize as a peculiar stride or gesture that friends recognize at a distance or in dim light.  To the editor, style has the same flavor plus another flavor.

Personality may keep one writer’s style consistent, but several writers’ styles bring both variety and inconsistency to their collective writing.  Variety is good.  Inconsistencies in editorial style distract, annoy, and confuse readers, implying carelessness and sloppy thinking.  Readers notice careless or inconsistent style, suspect careless handling of facts, and distrust both the writers and the magazine — often without knowing why.

One of the editor’s chief duties is to form and to follow consistent house style by blending the works of his writers into it smoothly without violating their personal styles.  He corrects errors and polishes rough spots.  A point of house style that seems arbitrary to you (since you know what you mean) may be necessary to make your meaning clear (and the style unobtrusive) to the reader.  Careful writers strive to make their manuscripts follow house style — to make the editor’s job easier and to earn higher rates.

Smokelore’s house style calls for the correct words, spelling, and punctuation when “right or wrong” is the choice.  But correctness can’t cover all choices.  Good style isn’t only a matter of what’s correct or incorrect.  It’s also a matter of smoothness, of graceful expression, of consistency.  It’s necessary for clarity, for the smooth flow of words from the page to the mind, and for the mechanics of publishing a high-quality magazine.  Smokelore’s house style calls for what best fits all the needs of this magazine.  Every point of house style that I’ve listed here has a sound reason soundly rooted in readability.  None is arbitrary or capricious.  Each point stands on the principle that the manner of the expression should never draw the reader’s attention away from the essential matter that’s being expressed.

Some of these rules are essentially universal — proper style for any publication printed in English anywhere.  Other rules in this guide specify Smokelore style.  They’re probably correct for most other style-conscious publications but are open to the preferences of those other editors and their house styles.  Use whatever style that you or any other editor like, for any other publication.  This guide just shows a few points of the style that’s desirable for Smokelore.

The style tips that I’m going to list here are not absolute editorial rules that you have to follow if you plan to write for Smokelore.  They’re just simple tips, offered here for your information in case you’re one of those writers whose sense of professionalism and pride of craftsmanship impel them to hone their style to the finest possible edge.  After all, as an editor with decades of experience with this stuff, I’m able and willing to make any and all of the style changes that your manuscripts need to get them ready for the pages of Smokelore.

After you’ve studied this guide, you’ll know and understand why when you see that I’ve changed your “prior to” to before or your “subsequent to” or “following” to after.  If you’re a weather-reporter or sports writer — or such flagrant style-abusers have influenced you to adopt their way of avoiding clear, simple, direct expression — you’ll know and understand why I’ve changed your “thunder storm activity” to thunderstorms or your “the weapon sports a 24 inch tube and a 4x12x Leupold scope” to “The sight on the rifle is a 4-12x Leupold scope, and the barrel is 24 inches long.”  If your professionalism leads you to rework your draft to fit these style tips, you and I are both ‘way ahead of the game.  But you don’t have to.  I will.

If these niceties of good style are too much of a nuisance for you (as they are for more top writers than you might suppose!), just keep in mind what I told an old-timer who told a fine yarn face-to-face but apologized for having no way to get it typed-up.  When he asked me whether I’d accept a story that he’d hand-written on lined paper, I told him “If you have what you tell me that you have, you can write it on butcher paper with a lumber crayon if you have-to.”  Content comes first, form second. 

Write or call me about questions of style that puzzle you but I haven’t answered here — spellings (especially names, like Niedner and Sedgley), choices of words or phrases, punctuation, sentence construction, whatever is giving you trouble.  I’d rather help you polish your writing as you’re writing it than have to polish it all by myself after you’ve sent it to me.

This guide is always fluid.  I keep finding that I’ve overlooked a typo, omitted something or not made something clear enough.  And I keep finding style problems that need to be mentioned.  So I’ll add to this guide from time to time.  Someday, I hope, I’ll have time to put it into a good orderly format — all neatly arranged in separate categories, with headings and such.  Until then, I apologize for the hodge-podge that it is now.  I hope that you find it helpful anyhow.

  • Strive to follow William Strunk’s definition and example — of vigorous writing:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

  • Use familiar, ordinary words.
  • Use strong, concrete, specific nouns and verbs, not weak, abstract, general words.  Give each sentence as simple a subject and verb as possible.  Go for the natural words and rhythms of good talk, not the dull, drone of high-powered writing.  Don’t be bashful about writing “I” when you mean yourself, but don’t refer to yourself unless you have to.  “A seven-point bull elk took shape in the fog” is better than “I saw a seven-point bull elk take shape in the fog.”
  • Use simple sentences — and be sure to give every one of ’em a good strong subject and predicate — but don’t chop your sentences into literary Vienna sausages just to be brief.  Make sure that all of your singular subjects have singular verbs and that all of your plural subjects have plural verbs (don’t write for example, “Seven cows and one six-point bull with a broken brow tine was grazing in the meadow.”  This construction is common, but it’s grammatically wrong).
  • Don’t strive for a breezy, flippant style.  For every ten writers who think that cute, jolly writing is good, there may be one or two readers —and they’re not likely to be serious about hunting, fishing, the outdoors, reading, or anything else.
  • Don’t hedge, qualify, or quibble with your facts or points.  If what you want to say isn’t straight and plain, don’t bother trying to say it obliquely or to hint at it.  Don’t oversay, oversell, or exaggerate.  If what you’re telling isn’t big enough or strong enough to stand and to walk by itself, don’t try to give it somebody else’s blood.
  • If you’re using a typewriter, type double- or triple-spaced on one side of decent sixteen-pound or heavier white bond paper.  Copier paper that isn’t treated and has no special kind of surface is good, and it’s economical.  And don’t use an old, worn-out ribbon — or erasable paper (Ezerase, Corrasable, and such) — or a typewriter with clogged characters.  Leave good margins on all four sides of the text — at least an inch.  If you use a thesaurus or dictionary of synonyms, use it only to find ordinary words to use instead of affected, awkward, pompous, stilted, or unfamiliar words — not the other way ’round.  Use only the words that you know well or look-up, to be sure that you’re using them right and well — not new, strange, or exotic terms that you think sound literary or learned.
  • Spell correctly.  Use a good dictionary (not a cheap pocket or pulp imitation of one).  And use it — don’t just set one out, next to your keyboard, and hope that osmosis or extra-sensory perception (ESP) will seep good spelling into your writing.  Note any specific tendency to misspell certain words or in certain ways.  Most common misspellings come from just a few simple, easily noticed and correctible errors — adding an extra letter (“fourty” for forty) dropping a needed letter (“ocurred” for occurred) substituting a wrong letter for the right one (“catagory” for category) reversing two letters (“causal” for casual) retaining a letter that’s supposed to be dropped in forming one word from another (“smokey” for smoky or “pricey” for pricy) joining two words incorrectly to form one nonword (“alot” for a lot, “alright” for all right)
  • Use no unorthodox spelling (thru, nite, thoro).
  • Connect basic sentences (each with its own subject and predicate) to one another separately with a period, a space, and a capital (This is sentence one. This is sentence two.) or to form a longer single, compound sentence in any of these ways — with a comma, a space, and a conjunction (This is sentence one, and this is sentence two.) with a semicolon and a space (This is sentence one; this is sentence two.) with a space, an em dash (or two hyphens — see the next tip), and a space (This is sentence one — this is sentence two.) with the second sentence enclosed in parentheses or brackets (This is sentence one [this is sentence two].)
  • Never join two sentences with a comma alone (This is sentence one, this is sentence two.)  Always use a conjunction after the comma (This is sentence one, and this is sentence two), or use a semicolon instead of the comma when you omit the conjunction (This is sentence one; this is sentence two.).  The exception — joining more than two sentences to make one long sentence (This is sentence one, this is sentence two, and this is sentence three.  Even here, the semicolon is better than the comma: This is sentence one; this is sentence two; this is sentence three).
  • Distinguish between

(a) the hyphen, a joining device that’s usually braced solid on both sides by letters, numbers, or words (heat-treated, .45-70, daylight-saving), and

(b) the em dash, a separating device that’s typed as two hyphens with a space on each side (Like this – – see?).  Some editors shove the word on each side up against the dash (Like this–see?), but Smokelore’s style is neater, more easily readable, and less confusing.  Most word-processors allow you to insert a true em dash, instead of two hyphens, by holding the “Alt” key down while you enter — usually — “0151.”  Others automatically convert two adjacent hyphens into an em dash.

  • Don’t break a word that’s too long to fit inside the right-hand margin.  Let it extend into the margin if you’re typing on a typewriter, or let the entire word drop down to the beginning of the next line if you’re using a word-processor.  If your word-processor allows you to, turn “hyphenation” off.
  • Use contractions (it’s for it is; don’t; haven’t; ’em for them; etc) — moderately, with taste and discretion.
  • Avoid the passive (“Winchester introduced the Model 70 in 1935” is far better style than “The Model 70 was introduced by Winchester in 1935” — or whenever it was).  In the preferred first form above, the subject and verb are Winchester and introduced. In the weaker second form, the subject and verb are Model 70 and was.  The word introduced in the second form is no longer a verb in this construction — it’s a participle, formed from a verb but used in this construction as the predicate adjective — weak, weak, weak!  Use the passive only when (a) the thing done, not the doer, is the focus of your meaning, or (b) the doer is indefinite or unknown (These boots were made in El Paso but Greg Richards in Hobbs, New Mexico, built my .220 Howell varmint rifle on a Nesika action).
  • Avoid obvious, ordinary modifiers.  Herbert Read, in his excellent English Prose Style, tells why —

“A man crossed the street” is a definite statement, vivid enough.  To say “A man in black crossed a busy street” is to lose a certain immediateness of effect; for unless the context of the sentence requires “a man in black” and a “busy” street, definitely for the furtherance of the narrative, then the understanding is merely delayed by the necessity of affixing these attributes to the general terms, for men are often in black, and streets busy.  To say “a man in scarlet crossed the deserted street” is indeed to add to the vividness of the phrase; but these exceptional epithets, “scarlet” and “deserted,” would never be used unless demanded by the context?  The general rule is: to omit all epithets that may be assumed, and to admit only those which definitely further action, interest, or meaning.

  • Avoid clichés, redundancies, pleonasms, tautology, and pompous, awkward, and muddy words and phrases.  If you’d like a list of just what kind of gobbledegook I mean, holler.  I’ve got a big list, and I bet that some of your favorite expressions are on it!
  • Use unit modifiers sparingly — and punctuate ’em properly when you use ’em.  Rewrite sentences when necessary, to include the prepositions, conjunctions, articles, etc, that show how those words fit together in meaning.  Design of cartridges for hunting rifles is better by far than hunting-rifle-cartridge design. The hyphens are necessary if you insist on using this kind of word order.  The obvious syntactical meaning of the first form makes the lexical meaning of the phrase clearer.
  • Avoid excessive slang, unnecessary fifty-cent words, flippancy.  “The obvious is better than the obvious avoidance of it,” Fowler says.  Write say, not state.  Write tell, not apprise or inform.
  • Avoid exclamations and excessive emphasis.  Let your facts yell without help.
  • Avoid foreign words and phrases.  Explain them briefly and simply when you have to use them.  Simple translation is usually good enough — and it’s the least that you should do.
  • Avoid euphemisms.  Write candidly when you refer to shooting and killing game, for example — just don’t wallow in blood and gore for effect.  Eschew bagging as both a euphemism and a cliché and harvesting (applied to individual hunters and kills) as not only a euphemism but also a misnomer.  Hunters collectively harvest game as a result.  Hunters individually don’t harvest game — it’s neither our intent nor our individual effect.  Also, it’s the animals collectively that get harvested, not any one or few that you or I kill.  Write harvest only where it clearly fits the facts — the total population of hunters collectively reducing the numbers of a specific population of a specific game species.
  • Don’t write formal or literary sentences with quotation marks added to make “dialogue.”  Dialogue is good only if you have the ear for it.  Don’t try to use phonetic misspelling (“dawg” for dog), and don’t overdo it.  Treat dialect gingerly or don’t touch it at all.
  • Shun fancy words, awkward phrases and sentences, alliteration (“We seldom saw it sunny that soggy summer”), and awkward adverbs (“matter-of-factly”).
  • When you have to use figures of speech or metaphors, keep ’em short, simple, and above all, clear.  Careful: figures of speech are likely to be either clichés or cute (affected).  Tread lightly here, but don’t be afraid to try ’em now and then.  I can cut ’em out easily if I they’re bad, and sometimes an awkward one needs just a touch of Simoniz to be a real gem.  I’d sure hate to miss any like that.
  • Don’t use “amount” for number, “which” for that, “if” for whether, “lay” for lie, “less” for fewer, “infer” for imply, “insure” or “assure” for ensure, “consensus of opinion” for consensus, or — well, I have a long list of these problem words and phrases, too.  Want a copy?
  • Don’t shrink from using a major word several times in the same paragraph or even in the same sentence.  Don’t use synonyms just for variety or stylistic neatness.
  • Go ahead and “split” an infinitive, if that’s the normal speech pattern of your sentence, rather than make it sound awkward just to avoid “splitting.”  The infinitive form of a verb in English can use — but doesn’t include — the little word “to.”  It’s the bare, basic verb itself, and nothing else (only the word split, all by itself, is the infinitive within the phrase to split), so an adverb between to and split (“to legitimately split”) doesn’t split the infinitive, anyway.
  • Also ignore the old advice against beginning a sentence with A, An, or The. Linguistically, there’s often no better way to start a sentence, since these simple words are clear, dependable signals that immediately get the reader’s understanding of the sentence off to a smooth start.  Also, this advice applies to starting a sentence with Also, And, But, However, Nevertheless, Nor, Still, or Yet.  These signal words not only help to get a sentence going smoothly — they also show how the meaning of the new sentence relates to the sentence just before it.
  • End a sentence with a preposition if that’s the normal way to say what your sentence means.  The record, I’m told, is a sentence that was spoken by a very young boy when his father brought the wrong book upstairs to read to him — “What did you bring that book that I don’t want to read-to out of up for?” — five prepositions ending a grammatically correct English sentence.
  • Never call a sporting firearm a “weapon.”  If it’s a rifle, call it a rifle.  If it’s a revolver, call it a revolver.  If you’re talking about revolvers and automatics as a group, call ’em handguns.  Call ’em weapons only if they’re clearly for use as defense firearms.  Even then, “rifle” or “revolver” is still preferable to “weapon.”
  • Use “I,” not “we,” to refer to yourself — unless you keep bats in your armpits, and you’re including them in reference to your collaboration with ’em.  Don’t refer to yourself as “the writer” or “this writer” or “the author.”  Address the reader as you, not “the reader.”  Or imply the “you,” if you wish, with the imperative verb (“sight-in for impact two inches above the point of aim at a hundred yards, and hold dead-on out to two hundred yards”).
  • Never call any shot “buckshot” unless it really is buckshot.
  • Cartridge cases aren’t “casings.”  Call ’em “cases” or “brass.”  Casings are tire carcasses or sausage tubes.
  • A bullet is that little thing that comes out the muzzle of a rifle or a handgun, not the doodad that goes into the chamber and includes the bullet, the powder, and the primer — that’s a cartridge.  Calling a cartridge a “bullet” is the same error as calling an automobile a “tire.”
  • No rifle ever “sports” or “wears” anything — not a scope, nor a sling, not even a lustrous rust blue, sling swivels, barrel, or stock — no matter what it may have or may be fitted with.  Nor does a rifle or anything else ever “boast” or “feature” or “host” anything.
  • Don’t call the line between two states a “border.”  It’s a state line.  The line between Montana and Canada is the Canadian border from the Montana side, the US border from the Canadian side.  The line between New Mexico and Mexico is the Mexican border from the New Mexico side, the US border from the Mexico side.  The lines between New Mexico and Arizona and between New Mexico and Texas are the Arizona state line and the Texas state line from the New Mexico side, and the New Mexico state line from the Arizona and the Texas sides.  Especially in the border states, the distinction between “the border” and “the state line” makes the difference between confusion and clarity.
  • The front end of a one-piece stock is the fore-end, not the forend or the forearm.  A forearm is the front piece of a two-piece stock.
  • The rear end of a one-piece stock is the butt.  The rear piece of a two-piece stock is the butt stock — not “the buttstock.”
  • The plate on the rear end of either kind of stock is the butt plate — not “the buttplate.”
  • Never call a bullet a “pill,” a “slug,” or a “grainer” — and rarely is calling it a “projectile” good prose style.  Call it a bullet.  That’s what it is.  A slug is something else.  Call that a “slug.”  Never call a rifle or handgun barrel a “tube” — and use this flip term for a shotgun barrel seldom or never.  Write “barrel.” 
  • Powder is powder, not “go dust” or “fuel.”  And rarely is “propellant” the right word for it.
  • Winchester objects to the use of the term “ball powder” to refer to any other than their trade-named Ball—powders, and Hodgdon’s legal beagles want us to limit our use of the term “spherical” to their trade-marked Spherical—powders. Both companies’ lawyers want any published reference to their trade-marked powders with these terms to be capitalized and to include the trade-mark symbol (™).  I find this demand offensive, this symbol intrusive.  Some of Olin’s Ball—powders and Hodgdon’s Spherical—powders aren’t really balls or spheres at all but are instead flat and irregular anyway.  So I don’t know what to call ’em if we can’t use the good old words “ball” and “spherical” as generic, descriptive terms to apply to powder granules or to this kind of powder.  I just find some other way to refer to ’em or don’t refer to ’em at all — to keep the law guys and myself content.

Don’t call ’em “grains,” either — that’s a unit of weight (a 7,000th of a pound) when we use it to refer to powder charges and bullets.  Call ’em “granules” or “kernels,” I guess.  I don’t know what word to use as a generic, descriptive term for this particular kind of powder.  “Round” won’t work — the extruded stick powders and some of the flake powders are round.  Whenever I can, I simply omit any reference to “ball” or “spherical” powders in my own writing.  I refuse to clutter my prose with intrusive garbage like “™” I am even less inclined to clutter Smokelore with it, even if omitting it means that I must never refer specifically or generically to these companies’ powders in print.  Both ball and spherical were legally usable common terms long before they were trade-marked into tightly limited use, and it’s still legal to use them just the same as we did in olden days, in any other phrase besides “ball powders” and “spherical powders.”

It’s too bad that the word “orb” is virtually unknown to everyone except crossword-puzzle fans.  It’s therefore too unfamiliar to be a useful generic term for this kind of powder.

  • Automatic is a legitimate term for a civilian’s reference to an autoloading rifle, pistol, or shotgun.  The distinction between automatic and semiautomatic is purely military — useful or even necessary there but not binding on the rest of us (just as the physicist’s narrower definition of presure doesn’t make our lay term peer pressure illegitimate or inaccurate).  The looser civilian use of automatic has long been acceptable to all except those who vainly insist on imposing military lingo on the general populace.
  • Round refers to a specific individual cartridge — the one that’s in the chamber, the magazine, your pocket, your hand.  Caliber is the nominal size of the bore or the bullet.  Cartridge can refer to the collective total or the basic generic concept or design of a specific unit of metallic ammunition — or to a round.  Omit “caliber” when you refer to a cartridge designation (just .30-06, not “.30-06 caliber”).  Write “a custom .30-06 rifle,” not “a custom rifle in .30-06 caliber.”  The caliber of a .30-06 is .30 or .308, not “.30-06.”
  • Write in the continuous present tense, not in the colloquial misuse of the future tense, when you’re writing about a continuing present fact or truth (“Elk often feed during the night and bed down during the day,” not “will feed” and “will bed down.”  Use will to refer only to the future.
  • In sentences, spell the numbers that you’d say in one, two, or three words (one, ten, a hundred, twenty-two thousand).  Use numerals for the numbers that you’d say in more than three words (395, 165 million, 45.8, 0.3585), in cartridge names (.30-30, .30-06), in all numbers to the right of a decimal (0.224), and in tables and mathematical equations.  Rewrite a sentence, if you can without making it awkward, to avoid starting it with a long or spelled-out number — otherwise, spell the number that begins a sentence (“Four score and seven years ago — or “Altogether, 355,000 people died — )
  • Don’t abbreviate terms unless you can’t avoid abbreviating or when avoiding common abbreviations would make your sentence awkward or unwieldy.  At the least, spell your term the first time that you use it, then put its abbreviation in parentheses right after it, to introduce what may well be a new abbreviation to the reader, or to make it clear which of two or more meanings you’re using the abbreviation for — “foot-pounds (ft-lb),” “the Government Printing Office (GPO),” “copper units of pressure (CUP),” “aircraft (AC)” — then you can use the abbreviation in later sentences that use the term and expect the reader to know what it means.  Never use the same abbreviation for more than one spelled-out expression, such as AC for aircraft and alternating current or air-conditioner.  When in doubt, spell it out — and let the editor worry about whether and how to abbreviate it.
  • In lists and tables, abbreviate feet per second “ft/sec,” not “fps,” and foot-pounds “ft-lb,” not “fps,” “ft/lb,” or “ft-lbs.”  Abbreviate millimeter “mm,” not “m/m,” and type it without a space between the numeral and the abbreviation (“50mm f/3.5 lens,” “7x57mm Mauser,” “9mm Mauser,” “8x30mm binoculars”).  Type other than metric abbreviations with a space between the numeral and the abbreviation (“24 in.”), except when the numeral and the abbreviation form a unit modifier before a noun (“24-in. barrel,” “220-grain Core-Lokt”), even though the noun may be assumed or implied and not spelled-out (“180-grain” when bullet is absent and obviously meant).
  • Write “can not” or “can’t,” not “cannot.”  “Cannot” is widely accepted now, but can not is still legitimate, clear, more readable, and preferable.
  • World War Two was World War Two or World War II, not “WWII” or “WW2.”  Write it out.
  • Spell-out model in firearms designations.  Write “Model ’98,” not “M98,” “M-98,” or “Mod, 98.”  Anything that’s worth telling the reader is usually worth being said in full, unless by its nature it’s unavoidably awkward, confusing, or not the way that it’s spoken.
  • Write “a hundred,” “an inch,” rarely “one hundred,” “one inch.”  Try to capture the sound of speech, not the dust of documents as you write.  “A writer has one leg on immortality’s trophy when his words are for boys and his meanings are for men,” some worthy soul once aptly wrote.
  • Don’t use the ampersand (@) for and except in company names that use it (Sturm, Ruger @ Company) or in certain abbreviations (H@H).  Check it out to be sure.  Write “and” in your sentences and in company names that don’t use @.
  • Use the singular unit of measure with all numbers that are smaller than one (“0.358 inch,” not “inches”).  Less than one is by no means plural.
  • The words data, criteria, media, phenomena, and graffiti are plurals.  The singular forms of these words are datum, criterion, medium, phenomenon, and graffito.  The plural of shekel is skekelim, not “shekels,” although “shekels” is usually acceptable.  These and other foreign words — and certainly the reader — deserve your respect and careful attention to correctness, even when you can “get by with” being careless or incorrect.
  • Species is the plural form of the singular form species.  Odocoileus hemionus (mule deer) is a species (singular).  Cervus canadensis (elk) and Alces americana (moose) are two species (plural) in the deer family.  Specie is a form of money.  (One item in a series isn’t a “serie,” either.)
  • Use a decimal before the numerals in the designation of an American or English cartridge — but not the metrics, of course (.357 Magnum, .30-06, .375 H@H Magnum, but 7x57mm Mauser and 7mm-08).
  • Use a zero before the decimal in numbers smaller than 1.0 (0.224 inch, 0.358) but of course not in cartridge designations (.25-20, .38 Special).
  • Omit periods from initials and abbreviations unless they form words when you omit the periods (in. for inch, gal. for gallon but ft for foot and feet and yd for yard and yards).
  • Use a hyphen (-), not a virgule (/), to connect the elements of a two-part cartridge designation (.45-70, .44-40).  When the second element is also a caliber, use the normal decimal after the hyphen (.22-.250, .450-.400).
  • Use a hyphen, not an x, to indicate the diopter spread of a variable-power scope (3-9x Leupold, not “3×9 Leupold”).  The x stands for magnification or power, not for to.
  • Don’t use capitals for emphasis.  Underline for emphasis if you can’t use italics, but don’t overuse emphasis.
  • Make most nouns possessive by adding ‘s to the end of singular nouns and just the apostrophe (‘) to plural nouns that end with an s.  If the singular form ends with an s,  form the possessive by adding ‘s (James’s rifle, not “James’ rifle”).
  • Always use the second comma to enclose an appositive and separate it from the rest of the sentence (Mr Jones, my boss, died yesterday — not “Mr Jones, my boss died yesterday”).
  • Use a comma after a hanging introductory word, phrase, or clause (“Earlier, Fred saw a buck.”  “Just before the season opens each year, Sports House has a big sale on rifles and shotguns.”).
  • Avoid the virgule (/) in body text.  It has very few legitimate uses in written prose except in fractions (3/16 inch, 7/8-14 thread), where it means “parts of the whole,” and in abbreviated units of measure (ft/sec, ft-lb/gr), where it means “per’ or “each.”
  • Use a small (lower-case) x for diopters of magnification (7×35 binoculars, 4x scope) or dimensions (2×4).  Omit the x from all nonmetric cartridge designations (.450-.400 3-inch, 9x57mm Mauser, 7x57mm).
  • Use the em dash (—) frequently — for informality and easy readability — on occasion.  Type it like this — with a space on each side — by typing two adjacent hyphens — which some word-processors automatically convert into an em dash — or by typing (usually) “0151” while you hold the “Alt” key down.
  • Put closing quotation marks after, outside the punctuation mark that ends the expression enclosed by the quotation marks (“Like this”? “No, like this.”).
  • Don’t number the items in a list unless you have to refer to them by number in the text that follows.  Avoid even this if you can.
  • Use a comma after each item in a series of three or more items, except the last item, but including the item immediately before the conjunction (A, B,C, and D — not “Major risk groups for AIDS are male homosexuals, intravenous users of drugs and Haitians” — as printed in a leading national publication!).
  • Type these common prefixes without a space or hyphen except (a) before a numerical year or (b) before a word that begins with a capital or (c) to avoid spelling a different word — co, de, pre, pro, re, un (cooperate, decap, prewar, pre-1964, un-American, un-ionized).
  • Type these prefixes without a space or hyphen except when a hyphen is necessary or to avoid doubling a vowel — ante, anti, counter, extra, infra, intra, multi, non, over, poly, post, pseudo, semi, sub, super, supra, ultra, under (antebellum, ante-1865, antigun, anti-American, countersunk, extra-active, extrasensory, infrared, intramural, multi-ply [more than one ply], multipurpose, noncorrosive, overshoot, polysyllabic, postwar, post-1964, pseudoscientific, pseudo-optical, semi-igneous, semirimmed, subcutaneous, superabundant).
  • Don’t capitalize common nouns in sentences — not even within a sentence that is a title or a heading.
  • Capitalize the major words in titles — unless the title is a sentence, which you punctuate as a sentence (with a capital at the beginning and a period at the end).
  • The Germans capitalize their significant common nouns — like Scheutzen — but we don’t. Since scheutzen isn’t a proper noun (a name), we don’t capitalize it in American usage (for the same reasons that we don’t capitalize rifle or shooter within an ordinary sentence).
  • Give proper homes to stray appositives.  Don’t write this sort of idiocy — “Hanging from a high limb by a long, prehensile tail, I spotted a large male monkey” — unless, of course, you were indeed hanging by your long, prehensile tail when you spotted that monkey.  The best cure for this grammatical ailment is to stop trying to be coolly literary and to start trying to be clear, plain, simple, direct, and straight-forward.  Then you won’t write “As a boy, my favorite pastime was —”  If your favorite pastime is a boy, it’s probably best not to say so in your article.
  • Amount and less refer to things that you measure.  Number and fewer refer to things that you count (including people).  Use amount or less for powder, forage, game, or snow.  Use number or fewer for rifles, bullets, people, trophies, specific animals.  Plurals generally take number or fewer.
  • Don’t write “I felt badly” unless you mean that your sense of feel was out of whack.  Bad, like several other adjectives, can also be an adverb without the -ly ending (bad, bright, cheap, clear, close, even, fair, hard, high, late, loud, right, sharp, slow, tight, wrong).  Also, in the usual use of “I felt bad,” bad is an adjective, a predicate adjective referring to the subject (I), not the verb felt, and “I felt bad” is grammatically analogous to the absolutely correct “I feel sad today” and “He looks handsome in that suit.”
  • Don’t use they, them, or their to refer to any one person.  Write “he,” “him,” or “his” for a person whose sex isn’t specified (and the right word here is sex, not “gender,” which correctly applies only to the grammatical characteristics of nouns and pronouns — “masculine,” “feminine,” “neuter”).  No individual person — or animal, or thing — is a “they,” not even my daughter-in-law when she was pregnant with the twins, Brad and Jeff — she was “she,” Brad was “he,” Jeff was “he,” and they were “they.”
  • Never write “between you and I,” “call George and he,” or “for he and I” until “between I,” “call he,” “for he,” and “for I” eventually become grammatically correct.  Write “between you and me,” “call George and him,” and “for him and me.”  Nothing “comes to he who waits” in this office except my blue pencil.  He who writes for him who edits gets better rates.
  • Use the above personal pronouns correctly, and I won’t be picky about who and whom.
  • Keep grammatical constructions consistent.  Don’t use the head and forequarters of one construction with the hindquarters and tail of another.  Write, for example, “between twelve and twenty” — or “from twelve to twenty” — not “between twelve to twenty” or “between twelve through twenty.”  Write “choose American or French walnut” — or “choose between American and French walnut” — not “choose between American or French walnut.”
  • Avoid using the hyphen for to, especially in midstream.  Don’t write “from 275-300 yards.”  Write just “275-300 yards” or (even better) “from 275 to 300 yards.”
  • Pay special attention to lists and series, and keep ’em parallel.  Never write anything like this — “He could draw, fire, and then he would have his Colt back in the holster, all in the blink of an eye.”  This syntactical atrocity says, when it’s all spelled-out, that he could draw, he could fire, and he could, then he would — etc.  Every item in a list or series must fit — must parallel or match — the syntactical pattern that the beginning of the construction and the first item in the sequence have established (“He could draw, [he could] fire, and [he could] then have his Colt — etc”).
  • Use common sense.  Examine and consider closely what you’re saying as you write.  Obviously, a numerical figure that’s smaller than one can’t possibly be a plural.  So “0.50 inches” is as asinine as “half an inches.”  In the expression “0.25 inch,” the only plural is the hundredths invisibly included within the expression itself.  The unit of measure, inch, is singular.  Use the singular for any number that’s less than 1.00 (“0.258 inch,” 0.125 millimeter,” “0.6 grain”). 
  • Equally stupid is the illogical expression “between each shot” or “between each layer.”  There’s no place that’s between a layer, no interval between a shot.  What you mean — and want to write — is “between shots” or “between layers.”  Between always takes two, not one.  More than two takes among, not between.
  • When you have to choose between two ways of writing something that you know will have to be edited if you choose the wrong form, I’d prefer that you use the form that if it’s wrong I can edit simply by deleting something, and I don’t have to rewrite or to expand it.
  • Give me plenty of information to help me write the cutlines (descriptive sentences or paragraphs) or captions (identifying labels) under your photos.

Now you know us.  Write something for us.



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