Monday, June 18, 2012

Postal abbreviations

Christopher Lasch on postal abbreviations:

Do not use the new postal abbreviations either in the running text or in footnotes. The old abbreviations — Mass., Miss. — are sanctified by custom. The new ones — MA, MI — are bureaucratic innovations designed to surround the postal service with an illusory air of efficiency. Accordingly they fall under the general prohibition of bureaucratic speech and writing, the invariable purpose of which is evasion and obfuscation, even when it appears, as here, to signal the streamlined, computerized elimination of waste motion.

Plain Style: A Guide to Written English, ed. Stewart Weaver (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002).
Lasch’s mid-1980s recommendation was sound: the thirteenth edition of The Chicago Manual of Style (1982), whose recommendations Lasch adopts here and there in Plain Style, includes both sets of abbreviations, with the dowdy ones listed first as “preferred” in notes and bibliographies. That arrangement and judgement hold in the fourteenth edition (1993), which also notes that short names “like Alaska, Iowa, Maine, and Ohio” may be spelled out. Everything changes with the fifteenth edition (2003): there the two-letter abbreviations come first, though the editors note that “Many writers and editors . . . prefer the older forms.” In the sixteenth edition (2010), the editors are more direct about their preference: “Chicago prefers the two-letter postal codes to the conventional abbreviations.”

A related post
Christopher Lasch’s Plain Style

[This post is for Daughter Number Three, who hates to see postal abbreviations in writing.]

comments: 4

Jazzbumpa said...

NDAK occurred as 21A in the LAT Times X-word puzzle today. I'm going to link to this post from the blog comments.

I'll be blogging tomorrow's puzzle. Stop by at The Corner if you have any interest in X-words.

Cheers!
JzB

Michael Leddy said...

I just realized that the two-letter abbreviations have no place (or virtually no place?) in a crossword puzzle, unless they form parts of longer answers.

Michael Leddy said...

P.S.: Thanks for passing on the link. I’m happy to see that the LA Times puzzle has a blog life. I do the NY Times puzzle and read Rex Parker several times a week.

Jazzbumpa said...

I find the NY Times puzzles to frequently be annoying. Too many gimmicks, self referential clues and gratuitous obscurities.

LAT puzzles are gimmick free, but you just can;t escape the other two. Also - French.

Cheers!
JzB