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Jay Z Or Jay-Z? BuzzFeed Tells You When To Hyphenate


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. So here's a problem you might have had if you are a journalist or if you edit a neighborhood or a company newsletter or you just like to be correct and up-to-date in your written expressions. If you want to write about the hip-hop mogul who is married to Beyonce - and let's face it, who doesn't - do you write Jay Z with a dash or without? Is fat shaming one word or two?

What pronouns do you use for a transgender woman? For writers searching for a clue, the website Buzzfeed has created a new style guide for the digital age. Emmy Favilla is Buzzfeed's chief copy editor, and she helped develop the guide. And she's with us now to tell us more about it. Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

EMMY FAVILLA: Thanks for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: How did you come up with this idea, or how did your team come up with this idea? Was it just the - exactly the kind of thing we were just talking? You were noticing that you were all making different choices?

FAVILLA: So basically, you know, we had an in-house style guide that has been - you know, it's been in the works for, you know, the past year or so. And my editor-in-chief thought, you know, hey, why don't we just put our in-house style guide on the site and make it a public-facing document?

MARTIN: Why did you think you needed it? I mean, were you all having arguments about this? Or were people - were people constantly coming up with different ways to address the same issue?

FAVILLA: Not really. I mean, you know, we had this in-house style guide circulating, you know, amongst the staff. So it was accessible to the staff, and our intent in putting it on the web was really, you know - Buzzfeed, we have serious journalism and news on our site, and we have, like, you know, the fun, shareable silly lists and quizzes.

And that's kind of reflective of what's on the Internet at large. So it's like, hey, you know, wouldn't it be helpful to have a set of guidelines to look for for web-specific questions and words and terms that you might not necessarily find, you know, in the AP style book?

MARTIN: Were there any great debates over whether to hyphenate side-eye or whether it was OK to just call Lebron James Lebron? Were there any point in the process that were particularly contentious?

FAVILLA: Not really. I mean, there were discussions. And, yeah, I mean, it's more fun - there's never any serious argument really about things in the style guide. And a lot of times, I actually take to Twitter when there are things that are kind of points of contention, I'll take to Twitter and be like, hey, should we hyphenate side-eye? Should we - how do we treat Vine-ing? To create a Vine as a verb, things like that.

MARTIN: You know, you have extensive - an extensive section on how to deal with issues of particular concern to the LGBT community and individuals. And it's interesting because these are issues that have come up more frequently.

I'm thinking about Bradley Manning, who then disclosed that he was transgender and then, henceforth, wished to be described by the female pronoun and by his chosen new name. And I was interested in whether - you know, how you develop these protocols, particularly because everybody doesn't always self-disclose. You know, people don't self-disclose and don't make clear what their choice is and how they wish to be described.

FAVILLA: Well, I mean, I guess our - I can't take credit, you know, for all of the stuff that's in the LGBT section because we do credit the GLAAD transgender glossary of terms, and there's a link to the full document and that guide, which is great. We kind of adhere to the rule that whatever a person chooses as the pronoun by which they want to be referred to, whether it's he or she or they or, you know, anything else. If a person doesn't disclose, then that's - I mean, you know, then it's a case-by-case basis. But, you know, we just feel like every person should be treated with respect in terms of how they want to be referred to.

MARTIN: So let me ask you a dilemma here. Plus-size is hyphenated, but ride share and ride sharing is not.


MARTIN: How come?

FAVILLA: You're putting me on the spot here. We use the dictionary. We use Merriam-Webster's dictionary, and we use that and AP sort of together. And then if we decide that the way that, you know, certain words are treated - whether they're hyphenated or one word or two words - isn't reflective of how most people on the Internet are using it, then we'll have a discussion about it. So I can't pinpoint exactly when we decided to hyphenate one and not the other.

MARTIN: I see that rom-com is hyphenated. So glad to know that. But here's a term - well, it's Valentine's Day, so I felt that we should, you know, highlight this - some of the romantic terms. But this was new to me - 'shippers - when referring to viewers who celebrate a fictional TV couple's romantic arc. And there's an apostrophe before 'shippers.

FAVILLA: Yes, that one was actually just added, I think, a week or two ago because - I'll be honest - I had never heard that term before.

MARTIN: That goodness.


MARTIN: I feel so much better now. Greatly relieved.

FAVILLA: No. Yeah. No, no. I was, like, is this a typo? What? So I was talking with one of our entertainment editors, and he explained what the term was. You know, he was like, that's the prevailing style for it, and we want what's in our style guide to be easy to read and easy to understand. And if most people are spelling it that way, with an apostrophe, then we're going to do that, too.

MARTIN: OK. I'll let other people look up some of the other terms that I'm sure they're very concerned about, like, that refer to a part of the business that we don't really engage with. It has to do with porn and things like that. But I'll let people figure out some of the things that they're most concerned about. Is there...

FAVILLA: I think I know what you're talking.

MARTIN: Yeah, exactly. Is there one rule that you would want everybody to adhere to, something that people are continually getting wrong that you would like to kind of correct?

FAVILLA: Not getting wrong so much, but I don't know why this is such a divisive thing. But we chose to use the percent sign rather than spelling out the word percent, and I guess it's just because, you know, people who come from, like, the New York Times and, you know, other places like that are used to spelling it out. And everyone's like, why aren't we using the symbol? It's totally not right. And it's kind of a silly thing, but, yeah.

MARTIN: And if all else fails, then you can decide with rock-paper-scissors, which is spelled with a hyphen or two.


MARTIN: Emmy Favilla is Buzzfeed's chief copy editor. She was kind enough to join us from our bureau in New York. Emmy, thanks so much for joining us.

FAVILLA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.