More from the Guardian ‘Style Guide’.

As many of us were surprised to learn earlier this week, not only does the ‘Guardian and Observer Style Guide’ arbitrarily declare that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel, but it also relocates the capital to Tel Aviv. 

Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel; Tel Aviv is (a mistake we have made more than once)

One may wonder if any other of the world’s countries enjoy the same distinction of having their choice of capital city completely ignored – and even ‘amended’ – by the ‘Style Guide’ writers. Having now read it from A to Z, I can assure you that they do not. 

The entire document is a rather curious mix of dictionary, grammar guide and manual for the 21st century Western politically correct. The underlying theme appears to be avoidance of causing offence – up to a point. Thus we are advised:

Ayers Rock now known as Uluru

down under Do not use to refer to Australia or New Zealand

Indian placenames the former Bombay is now known as Mumbai, Madras is now Chennai, Calcutta is now Kolkata and Bangalore is now Bengaluru

British Isles A geographical term taken to mean Great Britain, Ireland and some or all of the adjacent islands such as Orkney, Shetland and the Isle of Man. The phrase is best avoided, given its (understandable) unpopularity in the Irish Republic. Alternatives adopted by some publications are British and Irish Isles or simply Britain and Ireland

England, English should not be used when you mean Britain or British, unless you are seeking to offend readers from other parts of the UK (we published a map of England’s best beaches, with the headline “Britain’s best beaches”)

foreign accents Use accents on French, German, Portuguese, Spanish and Irish Gaelic words – and, if at all possible, on people’s names in any language, eg Sven-Göran Eriksson (Swedish), Béla Bartók (Hungarian). This may be tricky in the case of some languages but we have had complaints from readers that it is disrespectful to foreign readers to, in effect, misspell their names

foreign placenames Style for foreign placenames evolves with common usage. Leghorn has become Livorno, and maybe one day München will supplant Munich, but not yet. Remember that many names have become part of the English language: Geneva is the English name for the city that Switzerland’s French speakers refer to as Genève and its German speakers call Genf. 
Accordingly, we opt for locally used names, with these main exceptions (the list is not exhaustive, apply common sense): Archangel, Basle, Berne, Brittany, Cologne, Dunkirk, Florence, Fribourg, Genoa, Gothenburg, Hanover, Kiev, Lombardy, Milan, Munich, Naples, Normandy, Nuremberg, Padua, Piedmont, Rome, Sardinia, Seville, Sicily, Syracuse, Turin, Tuscany, Venice, Zurich. 

And the next time someone says we should call Burma “Myanmar” because that’s what it calls itself, they should bear in mind that Colonel Gaddafi renamed Libya “The Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriyya”

Considerable space is given over to one particular religion, with explanations of all others being absent.  Is it therefore to be concluded that – with the exception of Islam – all Guardian writers are theological experts and therefore need no guidance on the finer points of Buddhism, Shinto, Jainism or Hinduism? 

Muhammad Our style for the prophet’s name and for most Muhammads living in Arab countries, though where someone’s preferred spelling is known we respect it, eg Mohamed Al Fayed, Mohamed ElBaradei. The spelling Mohammed (or variants) is considered archaic by most British Muslims, and disrespectful by many of them.

Ashura a day of voluntary fasting for Muslims; Shia Muslims also commemorate the martyrdom of Hussein, a grandson of the prophet, so for them it is not a festival but a day of mourning

Eid al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice) Muslim festival laid down in Islamic law, celebrates the end of the hajj. Note that eid means festival, so it is tautologous to describe it as the “Eid festival”

Eid al-Fitr Muslim festival of thanksgiving laid down in Islamic law, celebrates the end of Ramadan (al-fitr means the breaking of the fast)

eid mubarak not a festival but a greeting (mubarak means “may it be blessed”)

hajj pilgrimage to Mecca; haji Muslim who has made such a pilgrimage

bismillah means “in the name of God” in Arabic

burqa not burka

casbah rather than kasbah

inshallah means “God willing” in Arabic

Islam means “submission to the will of God”.

Ka’bah cube-shaped shrine in the centre of the great mosque in Mecca towards which all Muslims face in prayer; the shrine is not worshipped but used as the focal point of the worship of God

Muslims should never be referred to as “Mohammedans”, as 19th-century writers did. It causes serious offence because they worship God, not the prophet Muhammad. 

“Allah” is Arabic for “God”. Both words refer to the same concept: there is no major difference between God in the Old Testament and Allah in Islam. Therefore it makes sense to talk about “God” in an Islamic context and to use “Allah” in quotations or for literary effect. 

The holy book of Islam is the Qur’an (not Koran)

Apparently, it is important not to offend Jedi through mis-spelling and climate change is deemed a touchy subject too:

lightsaber as in the official Jedi spelling

climate change terminology A sensitive area. The editor of the Guardian’s environment website says: “Climate change deniers has nasty connotations with Holocaust denial and tends to polarise debate. On the other hand there are some who are literally in denial about the evidence.”

Our guidelines are:

Rather than opening itself to the charge of denigrating people for their beliefs, a fair newspaper should always try to address what it is that people are sceptical about or deny.
 The term sceptics covers those who argue that climate change is exaggerated, or not caused by human activity.
 If someone really does claim that climate change is not happening – that the world is not warming – then it seems fair enough to call them a denier

As many have pointed out over the years, the Guardian’s insistence on referring to some terrorists as ‘militants’ appears to have something of a geographical basis to it. The 7/7 bombers in London were described as ‘terrorists’. Those who blow up public transport in Israel are militants. The style guide offers us some clues to that riddle.

terrorism, terrorists A terrorist act is directed against victims chosen either randomly or as symbols of what is being opposed (eg workers in the World Trade Centre, tourists in Bali, Spanish commuters). It is designed to create a state of terror in the minds of a particular group of people or the public as a whole for political or social ends. Although most terrorist acts are violent, you can be a terrorist without being overtly violent (eg poisoning a water supply or gassing people on the underground).

Does having a good cause make a difference? The UN says no: “Criminal acts calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public are in any circumstances unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other nature that may be invoked to justify them.”

Whatever one’s political sympathies, suicide bombers, the 9/11 attackers and most paramilitary groups can all reasonably be regarded as terrorists (or at least groups some of whose members perpetrate terrorist acts).

Nonetheless we need to be very careful about using the term: it is still a subjective judgment – one person’s terrorist may be another person’s freedom fighter, and there are former “terrorists” holding elected office in many parts of the world. Some critics suggest that, for the Guardian, all terrorists are militants – unless their victims are British. Others may point to what they regard as “state terrorism”.

Often, alternatives such as militants, radicals, separatists, etc, may be more appropriate and less controversial, but this is a difficult area: references to the “resistance”, for example, imply more sympathy to a cause than calling such fighters “insurgents”. The most important thing is that, in news reporting, we are not seen – because of the language we use – to be taking sides.

Note that the phrase “war on terror” should always appear in quotes, whether used by us or (more likely) quoting someone else

We learn, however, that 9/11 was a terror attack and that it is fine to call Al Qaeda terrorists. 

Islamist an advocate or supporter of Islamic fundamentalism; the likes of Osama bin Laden and his followers should be described as Islamist terrorists

September 11 Use September 11 (ie contrary to our usual date style) when it is being evoked as a particular event, rather than just a date, eg: How September 11 changed the world for ever

But “how the events of 11 September 2001 changed the world for ever” would follow our normal date style. 
9/11 may be substituted for either, as necessary, particularly in tight headlines, eg:
How 9/11 changed the world for ever

The official death toll of the victims of the Islamist terrorists who hijacked four aircraft on 11 September 2001 is 2,976. The figure does not include the 19 hijackers. Of this total, 2,605 died in the twin towers of the World Trade Centre or on the ground in New York City (of whom approximately 1,600 have been identified), 246 died on the four aeroplanes, and 125 were killed in the attack on the Pentagon.
 The hijackers were: Fayez Ahmed, Mohamed Atta, Ahmed al-Ghamdi, Hamza al-Ghamdi, Saeed al-Ghamdi, Hani Hanjour, Nawaf al-Hazmi, Salem al-Hazmi, Ahmed al-Haznawi, Khalid al-Mihdhar, Majed Moqed, Ahmed al-Nami, Abdulaziz al-Omari, Marwan al-Shehhi, Mohannad al-Shehri, Wael al-Shehri, Waleed al-Shehri, Satam al-Suqami, Ziad Jarrah (though dozens of permutations of their names have appeared in the paper, we follow Reuters style as for most Arabic transliterations)

However, Hamas and other Palestinian terror organizations do not get a mention, whilst:

Hezbollah means “party of God”

Besides the translocation of its capital, what about other subjects which a Guardian Jerusalem (or should that be Tel Aviv?) correspondent may encounter? 

Zionist refers to someone who believes in the right for a Jewish national home to exist within historic Palestine; someone who wants the borders of that entity to be expanded is not an “ultra-Zionist” but might be described as a hardliner, hawk or rightwinger

West Bank barrier should always be called a barrier when referred to in its totality, as it is in places a steel and barbed-wire fence and in others an eight-metre-high concrete wall; if referring to a particular section of it then calling it a fence or a wall may be appropriate. It can also be described as a “separation barrier/fence/wall” or “security barrier/fence/wall”, according to the nature of the article

settler should be confined to those Israeli Jews living in settlements across the 1967 green line, ie in the occupied territories

six-day war between Israel and its neighbours in June 1967

occupied territories Gaza and the West Bank

Palestine is best used for the occupied territories (the West Bank and Gaza); if referring to the whole area, including Israel, use “historic Palestine” (but Palestine for historical references to the area prior to 1948)

Mossad, the Israeli secret service; note definite article

Nakba the Palestinian “catastrophe”

Haaretz Israeli newspaper; no longer has an apostrophe

 And the words barmitzvah and batmitzvah have also been given the ‘Jerusalem treatment’ as the Guardian apparently considers itself qualified to take two words in another language and fuse them into one.

If you happen to have a damp weekend ahead, here is the full Guardian and Observer Style Guide for your continued entertainment and enlightenment. 



More from Hadar Sela
The background to the BBC’s use of inverted commas
A 2008 BBC ruling sheds light on punctuation policy.
Read More
Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *