Wednesday, May 26, 2021

“No Worries if Not!”

What’s happening to The New Yorker ? The styling of a title for a cartoon piece: “No Worries if Not.” The title is all-caps on the page, but in the browser tab and in two New Yorker e-mails (May 23, May 24), if  is styled with a lower-case i. Look, here’s proof:

  [Left to right: May 23, May 24.]

A year ago, The New Yorker capitalized if in titles. As recently as December 21, the magazine capitalized its if s. But by December 28, the capital was gone. It’s still gone, as this April title shows. It appears that in lowercasing if, The New Yorker has ditched The Chicago Manual of Style and the MLA Handbook and cast its lot with the Associated Press and The New York Times.

I must point out: the April title I’ve linked to in the preceding paragraph — “I Am Trying to Decide if I Should Buy Two Rolls of Paper Towel or Three” — is in need of correction. It should read “I Am Trying to Decide Whether I Should Buy Two Rolls of Paper Towel or Three.” How do I know that?

Garner’s Modern English Usage on if and whether:

It’s good editorial practice to distinguish between these words. Use if for a conditional idea, whether for an alternative or possibility.
Merriam-Webster is particularly helpful:
There is a grammatical hint that calls for whether instead of if. Whether is the one that precedes an infinitive, which is the verb form in the collocation “to + simple verb,” as in “I am wondering whether to change our reservations.” Whether, in this case, refers to the making of a choice, whereas if states a condition, as in “If the contestant spells the word wrong, he or she will be eliminated.”
Read “whether I should buy” as “whether to buy,” and the choice is clear. Or you could think of Hamlet: “Whether ’tis nobler,” &c.

Why did the if in the April title make me think about whether ? Because if and whether often confound me when I write. So I keep an entry about the two in a notes app.

But let’s leave rolls of paper towel alone. I think the writer is being arch. No worries if not!

[See also pant. And Apple’s approach to pluralization.]

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