Most serious publications have something called a “style guide,” which is a collection of grammatical, spelling, and other rules that everything they publish is supposed to follow. The primary reason for having a style guide is simply to keep things consistent; between the English language’s maddening refusal to conform to one standard set of rules and the personal linguistic quirks of each contributing writer, this can be a very big deal. A style guide can also imbue copy with some of the publication’s institutional personality: think of the proudly eccentric abundance of umlauts in the New Yorker or the stiffly proper use of honorifics in the New York Times.
Like pretty much every style guide, the Reader‘s is a blend of formal, widely recognized rules and the accumulated judgment calls of a whole line of editors (currently managing editor Jerome Ludwig is our guide’s steward), with just a dash of “because I said so” to settle arguments like whether it should be “A.M.” or “AM.” (At the Reader it’s the latter.) One of the cardinal rules of our style guide is that on all matters of spelling we defer to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
And for years now the bane of my professional existence has been the fact that Merriam-Webster hasn’t had an entry for “mixtape.”