A neat discovery recently was Hart’s Rules for Compositors and Readers at the University Press, Oxford (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 38th ed. 1978), the handbook for transforming inconsistent manuscript into the beauty that is the traditional Oxford appearance, which is continued today most notably in the Clarendon Press offerings. Originally written by typesetter Horace Hart in 1864, the work circulated internally at OUP, with some government officials and friends of employees occasionally geting a copy. In 1914, this arcane text was somewhat unwillingly made available to the public at last:
Recently, however, it became known that copies of the booklet were on sale in London. A correspondent wrote that he had just bought a copy
at the Stores; and as it seems more than complaisant to provide gratuitously what may afterwards be sold for profit, there is no alternative but to publish this little book.
Besides the expected rules for how to use punctuation in English texts, which to choose from when there are alternative forms (e.g. ‘ambience’ versus ‘ambiance’), how to space the material, and so forth, it also contains advice on various languages. There’s hyphenation rules and guidelines for italics in Russian, Greek, Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and even Catalan. Owing to the long survival of ‹œ› in British publications I would have never noticed that the ligature is to be used only in Old English and French, replaced by two letters in Latin and Greek words.
Of course, coming from a pre-computing epoch where all that matters is the final printed result, much of its advice is horrifying to one who has come to appreciate the split between semantic meaning and graphic appearance in Unicode. For example, in the chapter ‘Oriental Languages in Roman Type’ we find:
In Semitic languages ‛ain and hamza/’aleph are to be represented by a Greek asper and a lenis respectively.
If one is typesetting a document in XML that is meant to have both print and database output, then obviously this using a Greek Unicode position for Semitic material will create difficulties in searching and in transforming data.
Still, the 38th edition clearly includes many contemporary additions. A clever guideline in the chapter on musical works is that ‘ring-modulator’ must have a hyphen, evidently some work had previously been written on Stockhausen where it was necessary to make this decision.
The work has been updated since the version I found in University of Helsinki’s library, with the thirty-ninth edition coming in 1983, and then the traditional title seemingly superseded by the Oxford Guide to Style in 2002 and New Hart’s Rules: The Handbook of Style for Writers and Editors in 2005. None, however, resolves the issue of creating semantically perfect text.