About inconsistency: US and UK headline style

If you’re a regular here, you may have already read that I’ve worked as an editor and copy editor. And if you’ve worked as either one and scrolled through the site, what will jump out at you are not my screamingly irrelevant photos but my screamingly inconsistent headline style. Not to mention the editorial sins I commit in a smaller typeface.

What’s going on? I retired, that’s what. I turned in my Chicago Manual of Style. Really. I no longer own a copy, either current or out of date. That’s the bookcase equivalent of saying, “Screw it.”

Irrelevant photo: Late winter landscape. Yes, that's grass. It's been sitting there, green, all winter.

Irrelevant photo: Late winter landscape. Yes, that’s grass. It’s been sitting there, green, all winter.

So where do I go to check my style decisions? Nowhere. On some days when I’m writing a headline I capitalize the first word after the colon and on other days I decide not to. For the most part, I’ve stopped using the American style, which capitalizes all the words in a headline except for the ones that never get capitalized because the rules are complex and copy editors need to prove we know something the rest of you don’t or why else would anyone hire us? The British headline style is simpler. As far as I’ve decoded it, it treats the headline like a sentence, which is great because you don’t have to worry about all those American exceptions: Everything but the first word and the proper nouns is lower case.

Ah, but what about the first word after a colon? I’ll break down and confess: I haven’t checked whether it’s capped or lower case because—cue maniacal laughter—I’m retired and I don’t have to.

It’s not that I don’t notice the inconsistencies in my headlines, and it’s not exactly that I don’t have a headline style, it’s just that on any given day I’m likely to decide that I don’t like the style I was using so why don’t I change it—without going back and changing the old ones so they conform?

Of course, once fussbudgetty editorial thinking lodges in your head, it doesn’t vacate willingly, so I haven’t danced unthinkingly off into inconsistency. I’ve danced off while throwing explanations and disguised apologies over my shoulder. So, sorry folks. I am thinking. I am noticing. I just don’t care enough anymore.