This page describes some of the conventions used in my writing.

Quick jumps to items on this page:

I write in American English
A "billion" is 1,000,000,000
Decades refer to the 1900's
Use of apostrophe in dates and acronyms
Writing for an international audience
Strict quotation
Metric vs. English measurement
Date format
The indexes

American English:  I write in American English, not British English. Thus I use American spelling, e.g. I'll write "color" instead of "colour", and "liter" instead of "litre". This should not be surprising, as I was born in New York, New York (USA), and I now live near Boston, Massachusetts (USA).

Meaning of "billion":  Similarly, I'll use the American convention on the meaning of the word "billion". To me, a "million" is 106 = 1,000,000, a "billion" is 1,000 times that, or 109 = 1,000,000,000, and a "trillion" is 1012 = 1,000,000,000,000. I say this because at one time in the past, in Britain, a "billion" was 1012, what I call a "trillion". Although for uniformity, Britain has now adopted the American definition, there are still diehards in Britain doing it the old way.

Naming decades:  Although it may be somewhat egotistical, I do hope that some of my descendents will be interested in reading this well into the future. So although it should be obvious from when I lived, if I refer to, for instance, "the fifties", I mean the 1950's. It may be less obvious that if I were to refer to "the twenties", I mean the 1920's. Even though I wasn't alive then, that's what "the twenties" always meant to me, and I don't think I'll ever use that term to refer to the 2020's.

Use of apostrophe:  I do separate a pluralizing "s" from dates and acronyms with an apostrophe (e.g. 1950's, FAQ's). There's a tendency these days, particularly among computer people, to write "1950s" and "FAQs", but I find that awkward to scan. Yes, I know they're not possessives. The apostrophe has many uses.

Comma in large numbers:  As you can see above, a comma is used in large numbers to divide them into groups of three, and a period is used as a decimal point, as in "1,234,567.89". In France, that same number would be written "1.234.567,89". I probably didn't need to say this, as it's just a consequence of my writing in English.

Assume international readers:  Even though I'm writing primarily for my family and friends, the Internet is international, and I'll try not to assume that all my readers are Americans. That's why I wrote "Boston, Massachusetts (USA)" just above, instead of just "Boston". Readers can swoop in on a web page from anywhere, and read it entirely out of its larger context. A British reader seeing "Boston" could assume Boston, England. I hate having a store or service pop up as the result of a web search, and finding it to be just what I'm looking for, only to discover after ten minutes of reading that it's located in Zanzibar.

Strict Quotation:  In one regard, though, I'll stick with the British convention. As you can see above, I refuse to move my punctuation inside quotation marks. The American convention would be to have written above:

... instead of just "Boston."

But the name of the city is not "Boston-dot", it's just "Boston". I much prefer strict quotation, where the quotation marks contain only what is actually quoted. In this, I think I'm strongly influenced by being a computer programmer, and having to deal with the literal-minded nature of computers.

If what I quote is itself a full sentence, and ends with a period, I won't bother with another period outside the quotation mark. You know what I mean. But if I quote a question, then that extra period is really needed for clarity. For instance:

Amazed, he said to me, "Have you gone completely mad?".

What's quoted is a question, so it needs a question mark. The outer sentence is not a question, so it can't end in a question mark. It needs a period.

Use of the Metric System:  I do hope that one day, Americans will finally get around to casting off the insane "English System" of weights and measures, and join the rest of the world in embracing the Metric System. Thus, I'll use Metric units, with an approximate English equivalent in parentheses. For example, I might write "16 Km (10 miles)". For the English equivalent in volume measurement, I'll use American rather than Imperial measures - e.g. the American gallon (about 3.79 liters) rather than the Imperial gallon (about 4.55 liters).

I was tempted to leave off the English equivalents altogether, but in the end I decided to make things a bit easier for my American readers (probably the majority, after all).

Format for dates:  I'll write dates in the American form I'm accustomed to. e.g. January 11, 2010. Forms such as "1 January, 2010" make more sense, but sound stilted (or military) to me. I'll try to avoid the abbreviated form "1/11/10", because it's ambiguous. But if a date of that form slips through, it's probably in the American month/day/year order. Thus, "1/11/10" is not November 1, 2010, but rather January 11, 2010. By the way, that date appears on many of the early entries because it's the date these pages were first posted - my 68th birthday.

Footnotes:  For footnotes, I write a superscript Note 1, rather than just a superscript 1. This is because these are links that take you down to the footnote, and it can be hard to point to a single digit in a small type size. In each footnote, clicking on [Return to text] will take you (approximately) back to the position of the footnote in the text - it generally goes to the start of the paragraph containing the footnote.

The indexes:  There are four indexes ("indices", to you Latin scholars) that can be used to locate individual entries, called the "Blog index", "Numeric index", "Memoirs index", and "Alphabetic index". If you are following along as I write, the best index to use is the "Blog index", because it is sorted by the order the entries were written, so new Index entries can only be added at the end. The "Numeric index" is in exactly the same order, but compresses the entire Blog index into the entry numbers only (e.g. #0003), for rapid retrieval of an entry if you recall it by number.

The "Memoirs index" will become useful primarily after all the entries have been completed. It roughly sorts the entries by the order in which the events described occurred in my life. It will be most useful when my writing is done, as it will then provide a sensible chronological order in which to read the entries. But it's not very useful now, while the blog is still being written, because new entries may be made that fall either before or after the ones you've already read. That is, these memoirs entries are not being written in chronological order.

The "Alphabetic index" is a convenience to be used to recover an entry you remember by name.

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© 2010, 2012 Lawrence J. Krakauer   Click here to send me e-mail.
This page was last updated November 29, 2012