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U.S. v China, A Guide To Style And Diplomacy

Prohibited profanity
Prohibited profanity
Jeff Israely


There is style, and there is taste. There is also politics. The "style" in question here is the sort that is so often the source of bloody combat in the publishing world: whether to capitalize the Pope (pope), how to spell "okay" (OK?) and any number of sordid battles over the English language and the sacred realm of punctuation. Full stop.

The American news business has long relied on the AP Style Guide to adjudicate these often absurd skirmishes. But we have also seen how high the stakes can be when we must decide if someone is a "terrorist" or "insurgent," or even whether to call the U.S. president a liar.

Instead, the job of determining the boundaries of what we call "taste" was tested most recently when since ousted White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci went off on a vulgar tirade in an interview with The New Yorker magazine. News organizations had to decide what the heck to do about his language, which included X-rated insults of senior presidential staffers. Sometimes profanity is just profanity, and sometimes it is pure politics. Good taste in this case calls for us not to republish the particulars of Scaramucci's rant here, since it's a moot fuckin" point.

We're also reminded of the role of linguistic subtleties (or lack thereof) when it comes to international relations.

Of course, every language, and every country, has its standards. And its editors. In China, the closest thing to an AP Style Guide is one put out in recent years by the state-run Xinhua News Agency. It is unsurprisingly an open expression of the regime's air-tight approach to controlling information, but also a fascinating insight into mores and social norms, including an often entertaining list of banned words.

Among the updates, as SupChina reports: "Never indicate that Hong Kong and Macau are countries in any texts, maps, or diagrams' and "never publish the phrase green tea bitch."

Language, as Orwell taught us, is politics. What words are used — and banned — can tell us much about a place and its leaders. But we're also reminded of the role of linguistic subtleties (or lack thereof) when it comes to international relations. The current U.S. president conducts foreign policy via Twitter, where he recently declared he was "very disappointed" that China's leaders "do NOTHING" about North Korea.

Beijing responded in their own way Thursday: via an article in Xinhua, translated here. "Trump is quite a personality, and he likes to tweet, but emotional venting cannot become a guiding policy for solving the nuclear issue on the peninsula." This editor will never know the nuances of Mandarin, but "emotional venting" is pitch perfect in English.

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Shame On The García Márquez Heirs — Cashing In On The "Scraps" Of A Legend

A decision to publish a sketchy manuscript as a posthumous novel by the late Gabriel García Márquez would have horrified Colombia's Nobel laureate, given his painstaking devotion to the precision of the written word.

Photo of a window with a sticker of the face of Gabriel Garcia Marquez with butterfly notes at Guadalajara's International Book Fair.

Poster of Gabriel Garcia Marquez at Guadalajara's International Book Fair.

Juan David Torres Duarte


BOGOTÁ — When a writer dies, there are several ways of administering the literary estate, depending on the ambitions of the heirs. One is to exercise a millimetric check on any use or edition of the author's works, in the manner of James Joyce's nephew, Stephen, who inherited his literary rights. He refused to let even academic papers quote from Joyce's landmark novel, Ulysses.

Or, you continue to publish the works, making small additions to their corpus, as with Italo Calvino, Samuel Beckett and Clarice Lispector, or none at all, which will probably happen with Milan Kundera and Cormac McCarthy.

Another way is to seek out every scrap of paper the author left and every little word that was jotted down — on a piece of cloth, say — and drip-feed them to publishers every two to three years with great pomp and publicity, to revive the writer's renown.

This has happened with the Argentine Julio Cortázar (who seems to have sold more books dead than alive), the French author Albert Camus (now with 200 volumes of personal and unfinished works) and with the Chilean author Roberto Bolaño. The latter's posthumous oeuvre is so abundant I am starting to wonder if his heirs haven't hired a ghost writer — typing and smoking away in some bedsit in Barcelona — to churn out "newly discovered" works.

Which group, I wonder, will our late, great novelist Gabriel García Márquez fit into?

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