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Sunday, February 10, 2013

The exclamation mark: Yum! no more | The Economist

This Johnson blog post clarifies an editorial style choice of The Economist: It will no longer include the exclamation point after the names of Yahoo! and Yum! Brands--even though those companies include that punctuation mark in their names and products. Thus, The Economist will refer to them as simply Yahoo and Yum Brands. 

Good for The Economist! It's important for publications--and all of us--to respect and use the preferred spelling of proper names adopted by companies (and individuals). 

But it's not the responsibility of publications--or any of us--to help market those companies without compensation. And including an attention-getter like an exclamation mark in the name is certainly a marketing ploy.

This Economist blog also gets into the tricky choice of capitalizing letters in company or product names, like eBay and iPod. Unlike with punctuation marks, though, it apparently follows the preference of the companies. The blog links to the publication's style guide listing company names. 

The blog says:
The Economist's principles are to call people and countries what they would like to be called, and to show respect at all times. But another core value is clear traditional writing. Tricks like an exclamation mark in a name arrest the eye—which is why companies do it. But we would rather try to catch eyes with the quality of our writing and analysis, without distraction. Sometimes the best we can do is compromise. So BlackBerry it is, but also Yum and Yahoo from now on.
I think its style is acceptable, though I winced when I read its flexibility--or lack of clarity--in whether to capitalize the first letter of company names when they begin a sentence. Of course they should! That's a standard style rule in writing that's separate from a company or personal choice about name capitalization. And it's a pragmatic rule: Capitalizing the first letter in a sentence helps readers know they're reading a new sentence. 

Here's my related advice in Garbl's Editorial Style Manual:
brand names When using them, capitalize the first letter in each word. Nothing requires you to follow odd capitalization in brand names. But use brand names only if essential to an article. Consider using a generic equivalent instead. 
company names When using a company (or product) name, you have no obligation to help a company market itself (or its products). For most proper names, capitalize the first letter of each word, or capitalize a different letter if preferred by a company: eBay. But capitalize the first letter if it begins a sentence.
Do not use all capital letters unless the letters are individually pronounced: IBM and BMW but Subway and Ikea (not SUBWAY and IKEA). Don't use exclamation points, asterisks and plus signs that some companies use in logos and marketing materials for their company (and product) names: Yahoo, not Yahoo!Toys R Us, not Toys "R" Us. Unless it's part of a company's formal name, replace the ampersand (&) with and.
Abbreviate company, corporation, incorporated and limited when using them after the name of a corporate entity: the Boeing Co.,American Broadcasting Cos., Chevron Corp. Don't use a comma before Inc. or Ltd. even if it's included in the formal name. Do not abbreviate those words in business correspondence. In business correspondence, spell out those words when part of the proper name: the Boeing Company.
service mark A brand, design, phrase, symbol or word used by a service supplier and protected by law to prevent inappropriate use by a competitor. If you must use a service mark, capitalize it. Unless use of a service mark is essential, replace it with a generic term (lowercased): real estate agent, not Realtor. You don't have to use the service mark symbol--SM 
trademark A brand, design, phrase, symbol or word used by a manufacturer or dealer for its products and protected by law to prevent inappropriate use by a competitor. Unless use of a company's trademark name is essential in a document, use a generic equivalent (lowercased): facial tissue, not Kleenexphotocopy, not Xeroxcola, not Coke. When using a trademark or proper name of a product, capitalize the first letter of each word.
Unless the trademark owner is paying you to follow a different style, capitalizing the first letter is your only obligation in using a trademark; do not capitalize every letter unless the word is an acronym or abbreviation: Subway, not SUBWAY. You do not have to use the trademark and registration symbols--TM and ® -- unless, perhaps, commercial products of another company are named in advertising. 
The Economist article is featured today, Feb. 10, in my online daily paper, Garbl's Choices: Write Style, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

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