Christmas, 2006 / No. 17

Taddle Creek recently received an electronic letter from Timothy Konczyk, of Toronto, in which he quotes the following passage from the magazine’s Web site: “In December, 2000, the new semi-annual (not ‘biannual,’ which means every two years), Toronto-wide Taddle Creek was born.” Tim’s letter continues: “Semi-annual and biannual are synonymous. Perhaps you should use your ‘official spelling resource’ for the definitions too….From the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, second edition:

bi•annual adjective occurring, appearing, etc., twice a year.

semi-annual adjective occurring, published, etc., twice a year.”

Tim’s letter ends with the following postscript: “I was about to hit send when I noticed ‘December, 2000’ in the text quoted above. Please see [Section] 6.46 in The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition: ‘Where month and year only are given, or a specific day (such as a holiday) with a year, neither system uses a comma.’…I am tempted to apologize for pointing out such trivial errors, but they are not trivial to me, and I would like to think you feel the same. I like your magazine very much, in part for the pride taken in high editorial standards.”

No need to apologize, Tim. Trivial errors are the prime reason Taddle Creek doesn’t read any other literary journals. Please allow the magazine to address your P.S. first: While Chicago is certainly one of Taddle Creek’s main style resources, the magazine’s No. 1 reference source, as discussed last issue, is The Taddle Creek Guidebook to Editorial Style and Its Usage, which not only allows, but insists, a comma be used in such cases. It’s not a popular usage, but it is a valid one, and Taddle Creek is a strong supporter of underdog editorial-style rules.

As for the body of your letter, this is exactly why Taddle Creek has reverted to using the complete Oxford English Dictionary as its primary spelling guide, referring to the Canadian Oxford only for more modern or distinctly Canadian words. The O.E.D. actually defines “bi-” as “occurring or appearing every two —” and “occurring or appearing twice in a —.” It at least has the common sense to add, “The ambiguous usage is confusing and might be avoided by the use of semi-.” Oxford defines “semi-annual” as meaning “recurring every half-year,” or “once in every six months.”

Strangely, it is Webster’s, a fine but somewhat lesser dictionary, that offers the best advice. Although it admits to sharing the O.E.D.’s confusion over the meaning of “bi-,” beginning in the tenth edition of its Collegiate Dictionary, published in 1995, it added the following passage: “[I]f you need bimonthly or biweekly, you should leave some clues in your context to the sense of bi- you mean. And if you need the meaning ‘twice a,’ you can substitute semi- for bi-.”

And that is exactly what Taddle Creek has done. Thanks for your letter, Tim. Taddle Creek likes you, too.