Thursday, April 11, 2013

Choosing the Right Title

I just finished writing a paper on the management of the cod fishery in Cape Breton in 1891. The next step is to send it out to an appropriate journal for publication. However, I'm stuck, because I can't come up with the right title. I know what I want to call it, but I also know what a huge mistake it would be to do so.

My proposed title is, 'Managing the Cod Fishery from Eastern Harbor, Cape Breton, in 1891'. Can you spot the problem? Before I get into that, let me tell you what's right about this title. First, it is important to ackowledge that this paper is best suited for a Canadian journal that publishes historical articles. With that in mind, an ideal title should indicate the particular subject matter of the paper, where it took place, and at what time. My title does all of that, but the problem, as you may have guessed, is with the word 'Harbor'. Shouldn't I be using 'Harbour'? Actually, no.

As you can see from the trading mark pictured above, Charles Robin and Company referred to the location of their business in Cape Breton, as 'Eastern Harbor'. Why they did this, is a matter for another day. The critical issue for the moment is that, if I want to maintain historical accuracy, then I should go with my proposed title, as it is. However, if I actually want my paper to get published, or if I want interested parties to be able to find my article, I either have to change the spelling, or drop the place name from my title. Here's why.

British spelling follows the conventions established by Samuel Johnson in his dictionary of 1755. In contrast, and reflecting systematic efforts at simplification and de-Latinization, American spelling follows the conventions established by Noah Webster in his dictionary of 1828. Now, with respect to everyday usage, Canadians, as they are with so many other things, are generally tolerant of either convention. However, when it comes to scholarly writing in Canada, we are with the British all the way. If I submit the paper as it is now, an editor is likely to reject it immediately, without ever reading it, wondering how I would have the audacity to submit something without having the courtesy or professionalism to check my spelling.

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