Up to my neck in cookbooks: But what makes me drool?  Design guru Caz Hildebrand's marvelous black-and-white pasta cookbook, chock full of etymology, great graphics, and delicious recipes. And lists -- of ingredients, steps, tools, pastas . . .  What do we do, stylistically and grammatically, with lists?

 

With what style does Caz make the simple black-and-white page dance? And with what style and grammar do we create cookbooks in the first place?

The Geometry of Pasta

  

 

 

 

We start by making lists, and checking them at least twice. The ingredients list starts off most recipes, save for a brief intro paragraph or so chatting about how wonderful the dish is, or how it came to be. Ingredients lists are very stylized. Surprisingly, upon examination, few use abbreviations extensively, if at all. Tablespoons are tablespoons, not tbs; teaspoons are teaspoons, not tsps. I've always suspected that's because a tiny proofreading error, just a typo or two, can cause serious havoc. A tablespoon of red pepper instead of a teaspoon, or three times as much sea salt -- ay, caramba! That's a spicy meatball.

 

We often use ounces, not oz., and pounds, not lbs., but when lbs. is used, it's fun to remember that's it's an abbreviation from Latin, not English.

 

The single most important thing to know about the syntax and style of cookbooks is that the ingredients must be presented in order of use, and the steps -- whether numbered, bulleted, or otherwise ordered -- must use each and every one of those ingredients in order.

 

And what about numbered and bulleted lists? Well, numbered lists usually have a period after the numeral, but not always -- it depends on the design. And the instructions in the steps themselves are most often full sentences, ending with end punctuation -- the period.

 

Unless it's a particularly alarming step: "Devo frosting: Whip the cream. Whip it good!"

 

When we consider bulleted lists, folks get a little uncertain. Many of us old-timers learned that if a list starts with a sentence broken off with a colon, followed by a list of partial sentence instructions, then ONLY the final instruction ends in a period. The other instructions aren't full sentences and don't need periods.

 

But that looks very odd to most eyes. Most people, used to PowerPoint presentations and endless bulleted lists, have no idea that a bulleted list is just a sentence organized differently on a page. Most leave off end punctuation entirely and don't care whether a full sentence precedes the initial colon.

 

Of course, few of us would write a sentence that reads "This recipe includes: butter, sugar, and eggs." There should should be no colon. There should be a period at the end. Just because it appears

 

This recipe includes

•butter

•sugar

•eggs

 

is no excuse, in an old-timer's eyes, for that punctuation. My old copy chief would mark it

 

This recipe includes the following:

•butter

•sugar

•eggs.

 

But more and more often, we see the colon after "includes" and no period after the final entry. 

 

And we eat it up anyway. All conventions of style and punctuation change. Maybe, even, someday the conventions of chili for the Super Bowl or turkey on Thanksgiving will change to pasta. But then again, probably not. Mangia!

 

Do you cook or love cookbooks? What's your favorite cookbook error? Share the bounty.

 

 

Ellen Scordato has 25 years' book publishing experience as an editor, copy editor, proofreader, and managing editor. She's now a partner in The Stonesong Press, a nonfiction book producer and agency. In addition to her work at Stonesong, Ellen has taught grammar, punctuation, and style at the New School for more than 12 years in the English Language Studies department and taught English as a Second Language at Cabrini Immigrant Services.

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