A World without “Whom”: The essential guide to language in the BuzzFeed age

E J Favilla (Bloomsbury, 2017), 400pp, £12.99 (pbk)
ISBN 978 14 08895 02 3

Reviewed by Christina Thomas1

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You know TFW2 you realise you may, after all, be one of those linguistic dinosaurs? It hit me hard, reading this book. Why had I been asked to review it? I had to look up what BuzzFeed was. On the day of writing this, the second headline on BuzzFeed was ‘Are you more Harry, Ron, or Hermione based on your clothing preferences?’. This book is defo for the younger person, and when I consulted my hotline to the younger generation, my 30-something journalist daughter, I was met with a derisive, ‘Oh, that’s for kids’. I realise that I should add, for the avoidance of doubt, that Wikipedia helpfully defines BuzzFeed as ‘an American Internet media company based in New York City. The firm is a social news and entertainment company with a focus on digital media.’

And yes, I did retire last year.

Duh! Of course …! I wrote the SfEP guide Your House Style (now in its second edition and available from the SfEP website). I am clearly the go-to girl on matters of style, so that’s why I’m reviewing this book!

So, to the book. The style will either delight or irritate, but it’s fair to say that it’s not concise. Here’s an example:

Getting things kinda-sorta right when it comes to numbers
Also tucked away under ‘who cares?’: formatting numbers. There’s a reason why APS spells out one through nine and CMOS spells out one through ninety-nine. It’s because it doesn’t matter. Should you write 11th hour or eleventh hour? It literally makes no difference! Sure, try to be consistent about it, but don’t beat yourself up about letting a 20s sneak into a headline when your house style is twenties. You’ll get ’em next time, slugger.

There is a useful word list and list of terms you should know, especially if you have FOMO3 (JK4). There is plenty of guidance on things not necessarily dealt with in other style guides, which, I suspect, would be useful for honing and checking out your editorial judgement. The chapter ‘How not to be a jerk writing about sensitive topics’ covers, amongst other things, slavery, abortion, race and ethnicity. I thought the guidance on slavery bonkers, whereas the section on international naming conventions was helpful. Reading both sections had the useful side-effect of making me justify to myself why I would or wouldn’t follow the advice.

So, do you need to buy this book (and having bought it, read it)? If you work for BuzzFeed, yes. (Obvs.) If you are interested in a take on how language is or may be developing, then, yes, again. BuzzFeed clearly thinks it is hugely influential, and this is something I’m in no position to judge. If your work is academic, mainstream and/or formal, the answer is probably no, you don’t need this book for your work but, regarded as an exotic description of a land you have no intention of visiting, you may find it enjoyable.


1 Using some of the styles and writing conventions advocated in the book under review.

2 That feeling when.

3 Fear of missing out.

4 Just kidding.

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