This is the month that Robert McArtor has been awaiting and dreading since 1973. Like a college of cardinals, the members of the Government Printing Office's Style Board have begun convening weekly in McArtor's hopelessly crowded office in the main GPO building on North Capitol Street. Their aim: to produce a new official English language style book by early next year.
This book is the government's official linguistic argument-settler, so it has to be both up to date and complete. As a result, putting together a new edition promises to be a huge task.
The 1973 edition, which is the most recent, contains hundreds of thousands of entries. Even McArtor, who is chairman of the style board, can't remember how many. And waiting in the wings are thousands more up-or-down votes that must be taken.
Should "Abscam" be all capitals? Should "Ms." be permitted? "Like the chairman," says McArtor, "the list of what we have to consider has gained weight."
Although only the six board members have votes when push comes to shove, McArtor says he is receptive to views from the public. So under the heading of fair warning, I'm publishing McArtor's educated guesses as to which issues will be the most controversial in the current round of style board meetings. If you want to praise or damn him, you'd better call soon.
By far the most emotional issue, McArtor predicts, will be whether to capitalize "black" when it refers to race. In the current style book, the word is not capitalized.
McArtor's view: "I'm anti-cap myself. 'Black' isn't the name of the race. 'Negro' is. But you've got to be realistic. Many other people want caps." McArtor's prediction: the word will be capitalized in the new volume.
A category McArtor calls "fanciful appellations" is also expected to cause trouble.
The current volume awards caps to "Big Four" and "Dust Bowl." But what do you do with "Sun Belt" and "Free World?" They're not in the current edition at all. "I guess that's why there's a board," McArtor says.
The third category that causes constant friction is names of government programs and military weapons. Should the anti-poverty agency be ACTION (the current choice) or Action? Is it a Triad defense system (current choice) or TRIAD? Do workers get RIFFED? Or RIF'ed? Or riffed? Or what?
Finally, there's the category known unofficially as "special requests." For example, McArtor says, "we got a letter from the people at Texas A. & M. University. They said they've decided that the official name of the university doesn't have periods any more. But it has periods in the current (style) book. So what do we do?"
Still, the conundrum dearest to McArtor's heart is the phrase "Catch 22."
Should there be a hyphen between the word and the numerals? Should there be a capital C? "I take a personal interest in this one," McArtor said, "because that phrase describes what we're going through a lot of the time up here. Especially now."TIf you're a fan of the television quiz show "It's Academic," you've no