Notes Style Sheet


Notes uses American English spellings when they differ from British English ones.

There is a common misperception that American lexicographer and philologist Noah Webster (1758-1843) "invented" the American way of spelling to replace the British. In fact, he merely popularized and codified certain characteristically American spellings already in use on both sides of the Atlantic (there were no "standard" spellings in either Britain or America at the time). His Elementary Spelling Book (popularly known as the "Blue-Back Speller" for its blue cover) was first published in 1783, and went through hundreds of editions in Webster's own lifetime. Over time, he changed spellings in his book to simpler and more phonetic ones, and, presto, "American" spellings were being written into the copybooks of pupils throughout the United States and its territories. Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language (1828) more or less sealed the deal.

You know this already, but let's review some of the differences:

  • In British English, words that end in "-re" often end in "-er" in U.S. English: theater, not theatre.
  • In British English, words that end in "-our" usually end in "-or" in U.S. English: color, not colour; favor, not favour
  • In British English, some nouns that end with "-ogue" end with "-og" in U.S. English: catalog, not catalogue
  • In British English, some nouns that end with "-ence" are spelled with "-ense" in U.S. English: defense, not defence
  • In British English, verbs that can end with either "-ize" or "-ise" always end with "-ize" in U.S. English: magnetize, not magnetise

When in doubt, consult MW11Webster's 3d, or another American dictionary. A handy online cheat sheet is "Comprehensive List of American and British Spelling Differences", which lists about 1,800 word roots and derivatives in parallel columns of U.K. vs. U.S. spellings.

Cyrillic romanization 

For romanization of Russian names (if not found in Library of Congress Authorities []), titles, and other text, use ALA-LC Romanization Tables ( If citing an edition with dual title pages (say, Russian & English), use the romanization printed in the edition.

There are multiple systems for romanizing the Russian language. Besides the ALA-LC system used by Library of Congress and in Notes, the "British Standard 2979:1958" system is used by many British publishers, including Oxford University Press and (apparently) in New Grove Dictionary (note, however, that the British Library [!] has used ALA-LC romanization since 1975). The only significant differences are the following three characters (note the use of ligatures or ties over the letters in the ALA-LC system):

  • ю = i͡u (ALA-LC) = yu (British Standard) 
  • я =  i͡a (ALA-LC) = ya (British Standard) 
  • ц =  t͡s (ALA-LC) = ts (British Standard)

During manuscript preparation, place the code “[arc]” before the two letters to be tied:

  • [arc]IUri Shaporin becomes I︡Uri Shaporin
  • Shostakovich, Simfon[arc]ia no. 3 "Pervomaiska[arc]ia" becomes Simfoni͡a no. 3 "Pervomaiskai͡a"

Doubling Consonants (from GPO Style Manual)

  • "5.14. A single consonant following a single vowel and ending in a monosyllable or a final accented syllable is doubled before a suffix beginning with a vowel: bag, bagging; red, reddish; format, formatting; rob, robbing; input, inputting; transfer, transferred. But total, totaled, totaling; modal, modaly; travel, traveled, traveling."
  • "5.15. If the accent in a derivative falls upon an earlier syllable than it does in the the root word, the consonant is not doubled: refer, reference; prefer, preference; infer, inference." 

(from CMS16)

  • "5.138. . . . In words of more than one syllable, the final consonant is doubled if it is part of the syllable that is stressed both before and after the inflection {prefer–preferred} but not otherwise {travel–traveled}."
  • These are not hard and fast rules. British English typically doubles consonants in all instances when adding a suffix (but we're not writing British English), and the New Yorker magazine does likewise (go figure). Using double consonants in these cases is not "wrong" (MW11 often gives both spellings), but a vigilant Notes copy editor will discard the second consonant for stylistic consistency.

German Eszett (sometimes known as "scharfes S")

While it is unlikely that Notes authors and reviewers will be composing text in German, it is important to be vigilant when transcribing titles, proper names, quotations and the like when it comes to the German character Eszett (ẞ: a modernized typographical rendering of how “sz” appeared in traditional Gothic script). German orthography reform of 1996—an attempt to simplify the spelling of the German language—sought to do away with the Eszett (substituting “ss”), but this reform was obligatory only in schools and public administration. The reform was controversial and unpopular, and many German-language publishers, magazines, and newspapers refused to go along (for a summary and timeline of the reform, see Thus, the Eszett lives on in published works and proper nouns, such as in the name of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin—Preuẞischer Kulturbesitz (not "Preussischer"). The task for the Notes author, reviewer, or editor is simple: in quoted text, use whatever spelling is in the original; for proper nouns, use the version at the organization's Web site or in its publications.

There is no uppercase version of this character. Thus, if a word with ẞ must be rendered entirely in capital letters, change the ẞ to SS. (N.B.: In Microsoft Word, if a word containing an Eszett is entered in lower case, then highlighted, and the fontgadget used to convert to all caps, the Eszett does not change size.)

The German Eszett (ẞ) should not be confused with the Greek small-letter beta (β), which it closely resembles (capital-letter beta is the same as roman B). Both characters are available from the Insert/Symbol table in Microsoft Word (where the beta symbol is clearly labeled "Greek small-letter beta"; the Eszett symbol, inexplicably, has no label at all, though the symbols surrounding it are labeled).

The primary difference between ẞ and β in most typefaces is that the β (beta) reaches below the line, while ẞ (Eszett) normally does not. Note, however, that in italic typefaces, the Eszett often does display a tail below the line.

Be aware, however, that substitution of German ẞ as a surrogate for Greek β once was common when describing beta-test versions of programs in older operating systems, since the available character sets did not support use of Greek letters.


A ligature is a pairing of letters that are joined in print: Æ and æ in Danish, Norwegian, and Old English; Œ and œ in French; and ß in German (see Eszett, above).

In English-language contexts, and for words adopted into English, do not join the letters except in direct quotations: oeuvre, aesthetic, trompe l'oeil, not œuvre, æsthetic, trompe l'œil.


In German words, do not replace umlauts with a letter e following the letter the umlaut modifies. Use ä, ö, ü, rather than ae, oe, and ue. This applies to initial capitals as well as lower-case letters. Common practice must be observed, however, for personal names: use the forms/spellings found in Library of Congress Authorities ( The following names merit special note:

  • George Frideric Handel (originally Georg Friedrich Händel)
  • Arnold Schoenberg (originally Schönberg)

Though these composers Anglicized (Handel) and Americanized (Schoenberg) their names, German & Austrian publishers have refused to go along, and editions emanating from those countries resolutely spell these names with umlauts. Notes review headings for such editions quote the names as they appear on the title pages; in the body of the review, however, use the composers' preferred (revised) names, unless quoting from the review.