The Guardian style guide
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Saying it in style
"The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do"
The Guardian style guide is edited by David Marsh and Nikki Marshall
The word and pdf versions of the Guardian style guide are regularly updated so return often to www.guardian.co.uk/styleguide/ for the latest additions.
Last updated: July 2004
(Collins English Dictionary- Millennium Edition) to which you should refer for for guidance on anything that does not appear in the style guide
Neither pedantic nor wild … an introduction by Michael McNay
The Guardian has always been a newspaper for writers, and so a newspaper for readers. All the other skills, copy editing, design, typography, illustration, photography, are there to enhance the writing and to make it more accessible, to make the paper a more desirable journal to read - though illustration and photography each has its separate justification as well.
It should not be necessary to add that Guardian writers and subeditors should all be interested in the language, in its proper use and its development, and that regular trips to books as wide-ranging as Gower's The Complete Plain Words, Partridge's Usage and Abusage, Orwell's brilliant short essay Politics and the English Language, Fowler's Modern English Usage, or Kingsley Amis's The King's English, are useful in sharpening professional tools as well as for entertainment.
One says it should not be necessary, but it is very obvious all round the Guardian office that uncomfortably many people involved in producing and shaping text for the paper rely more on the casual question, "What's the style for x?" and the casual answer, "I think it's probably y." Journalists who are not sufficiently interested in house style to check the house style guide are not on the face of it very likely to be much interested in style at all.
But our approach to style in its broadest sense is, if anything, more important now than before, first because other newspapers, which may always have had good writing in specialist areas, have caught up fast across a whole range of news and features; second because the Guardian itself employs so many staff on freelance shifts or short contracts who arrive here with no particular idea of what makes this paper different from others, and even staff journalists who are never inducted into what values the Guardian holds particularly close; third, though more obscurely, because of the arrival of the internet: this style guide itself is the first to be published on the world wide web. That makes it accessible in seconds; it cannot get lost or suffer having coffee spilt on it. But though there is no reason in itself why new publishing methods should change the language for the worse, the example of radio and television shows that it can: at the top end, the best correspondents file spoken reports that could grace this newspaper; at the broad base, reporters speak a form of unlovely but infectious journalese destined only for the rubbish bin.
House style is the means by which a newspaper seeks to ensure that where there are permissible variants in spellings, the use of acronyms and so forth, a unified approach to these matters is adopted to help in disseminating a sense of rationality and authority in the use of language. What it does not mean is imposing a unified writing style on the newspaper. Many of the reporters, columnists, critics and at least one former editor who once ran a highly idiosyncratic gossip column and who have enlivened the pages of the Guardian and helped to build its international reputation could hardly have done so had they been edited from the beginning into a homogenous house style. A subeditor can do no worse disservice to the text before him and thus to the writer, the reader, and the newspaper, than to impose his or her own preferences for words, for the shape of sentences and how they link, for a pedantic insistence on grammar in all cases as it used to be taught in school; in the process destroying nuances and possibly even the flow of a piece. And I write this as a career copy and layout editor with the best part of 40 years' service on the Guardian and who regards the skills involved in copy editing not just as desirable but essential.
Editing involves fine judgment, particularly as the paper has so many sections today serving possibly quite different kinds of readership. But fine judgments mean good editing, blanket judgments mean bad editing. A piece written in the vernacular that would be inappropriate on the analysis page or even (even?) in a sports column might pass muster in the Guide, where the demotic language of an NME review would be closer to the mark than the high style of Macaulay or CP Scott. And dealing sympathetically with quirks of writing style certainly does not preclude tidying up cliche-ridden journalese, verbosity, the latest vogue words and phrases, the words and phrases that flatten out meaning, replace a range of better more finely tuned words and concepts, and anaesthetise writing.
The introduction to the Guardian stylebook of 1960, which itself was a revision to the initial guide published in 1928, was headed "Neither pedantic nor wild".
That much has not changed.
• Michael McNay worked for the Guardian from 1963 to 1999.
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A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z a or an before h?
use an only if the h is silent: an hour, an heir, an honourable man, an honest woman; but a hero, a hotel, a historian (but don’t change a direct quote if the speaker says, for example, “an historic”)
cap up, eg Rievaulx Abbey, Westminster Abbey
Do not use full points in abbreviations, or spaces between initials: BBC, US, mph, eg, 4am, lbw, No 10, PJ O'Rourke, WH Smith, etc.
Spell out less well-known abbreviations on first mention; it is not necessary to spell out well-known ones, such as EU, UN, US, BBC, CIA, FBI, CD, Aids, Nasa.
Use all caps only if the abbreviation is pronounced as the individual letters; otherwise spell the word out: the BBC, ICI, VAT, but Isa, Nato.
Beware of overusing less well-known acronyms and abbreviations; they can look clunky and clutter up text, especially those explained in brackets but then only referred to once or twice again. It is usually simpler to use another word, or even to write out the name in full a second time.
cap up when referring to native Australians
lc when referring to indigenous populations
abscess absorption abysmal abyss a cappella Acas
the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service at first mention, thereafter just Acas
use on French, German, Spanish and Irish Gaelic words (but not anglicised French words such as cafe, apart from exposé)
formerly Andersen Consulting
has been known as contact since the 1989 Children Act
uc when using full name, eg Criminal Justice Act 1998, Official Secrets Act; but lc on second reference, eg “the act”, and when speaking in more general terms, eg “we need a radical freedom of information act"; bills remain lc until passed into law
always lc:acting prime minister, acting committee chair, etc
male and female, avoid actress except when in name of award, eg Oscar for best actress; one 27-year-old actor contacted the Guardian to say “actress” has acquired a faintly pejorative tinge and she wants people to call her actor (except for her agent who should call her often)
AD goes before the date (AD64), BC goes after (300BC); both go after the century, eg second century AD, fourth century BC
hormone that increases heart rate and blood pressure, extracted from animals or synthesised for medical uses
do not use hyphens after adverbs ending in -ly, eg a hotly disputed penalty, a constantly evolving newspaper, genetically modified food, etc; but hyphens are needed with short and common adverbs, eg ill-prepared report, hard-bitten hack
member of the Scottish bar (not a barrister)
exhortations in the style guide had no effect (noun) on the number of mistakes; the level of mistakes was not affected (verb) by exhortations in the style guide; we hope to effect (verb)a change in this
with or between, not to or for
people Afghanis currency of Afghanistan
Tony Blair, 52 (not “aged 52”); little Johnny, four; the woman was in her 20s (but twentysomething, fortysomething)
to make worse, not to annoy
despite the once popular terrace chant “A, G, A-G-R, A-G-R-O:Agro!”
AGM ahead of
avoid, use before or in advance of
acquired immune deficiency syndrome, but normally no need to spell out
airbase, aircrew, airdrop, airlift, airmail aircraft carrier air raid, air strike air vice-marshal al-
(note lc and hyphen) before an Arabic name means “the” so try to avoid writing “the al- … ” where possible
former US secretary of state; Mrs Albright, not Ms, after first mention
Alcott, Louisa May
(1832-88) American author of Little Women
www.alcottweb.com A-levels Ali, Muhammad alibi
being somewhere else; not synonymous with excuse
as worn by Alice in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass (1871) and David Beckham
Arabic for “the God”. Both words refer to the same concept: there is no major difference between God in the Old Testament and Allah in Islam. Therefore it makes sense to talk about “God” in an Islamic context and to use “Allah” in quotations or for literary effect
“God is most great”
all comers Allende, Isabel
Chilean author, niece of Salvador
Chilean president, overthrown and killed in 1973
lc, second world war allies, etc; but use coalition when referring to the 2003 Iraq war
strictly, a choice between two courses of action; if there are more than two, option or choice may be preferred
Alzheimer's disease AM (assembly member)
member of the Welsh assembly, eg Rhodri Morgan AM
lc, eg the British ambassador to Washington
American Civil Liberties Union
not American Civil Rights Union
Take care: “University of X" is not the same as “X University"; most states have two large public universities, eg University of Kentucky and Kentucky State University, University of Illinois and Illinois State University, etc
Do not call Johns Hopkins University “John Hopkins" or Stanford University “Stamford”
America's Cup Amhrán na bhFiann
Irish national anthem
trade union formed by a merger between the AEEU and MSF
among or between?
Contrary to popular myth, between is not limited to two parties. It is appropriate when the relationship is essentially reciprocal: fighting between the many peoples of Yugoslavia, treaties between European countries. Among belongs to distributive relationships: shared among, etc
use in company names when the company does: Marks & Spencer, P&O
precede descendants; we frequently manage to get them the wrong way round
anonymous pejorative quotes
See appendix 2: the editor’s guidelines on the identification of sources Ansaphone
take action in expectation of; not synonymous with expect
anticlimax antidepressants antihero antipodes anti-semitic, anti-war but antisocial any more
Some plural nouns have no “s”, eg children. These take an apostrophe and “s” in the possessive, eg children's games, gentlemen's outfitter, old folk's home.
The possessive in words and names ending in s normally takes an apostrophe followed by a second s (Jones's, James's), but be guided by pronunciation and use the plural apostrophe where it helps: Mephistopheles' rather than Mephistopheles's.
Use apostrophes in phrases such as in two days’ time, 12 years' imprisonment and six weeks’ holiday, where the time period (two days) modifies a noun (time), but not in nine months pregnant or three weeks old, where the time period is adverbial (modifying an adjective such as pregnant or old) — if in doubt, test with a singular such as one day’s time, one month pregnant.
And if anyone tries to tell you that apostrophes don’t matter and we’d be better off without them, consider these four phrases (listed in Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct), each of which means something completely different: my sister’s friend’s investments, my sisters’ friends’ investments, my sisters’ friend’s investments, my sister’s friends’ investments
appal, appalling appendix
to estimate worth
Both a noun and an adjective, and the preferred adjective when referring to Arab things in general, eg Arab history, Arab traditions. Arabic usually refers to the language and literature: “the Arabic press” means newspapers written in Arabic, while “the Arab press” would include newspapers produced by Arabs in other languages.
There is no simple definition of an Arab. At an international level, the 22 members of the Arab League can safely be described as Arab countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. At a human level, there are substantial groups within those countries – the Berbers of north Africa and the Kurds, for example – who do not regard themselves as Arabs.
Though Arabic has only three vowels – a, i and u – it has several consonants that have no equivalent in the Roman alphabet. For instance, there are two kinds of s, d and t. There are also two kinds of glottal sound. This means there are at least 32 ways of writing the Libyan leader Muammar Gadafy's name in English, and a reasonable argument can be made for adopting almost any of them. With no standard approach to transliteration agreed by the western media, we must try to balance consistency, comprehensibility and familiarity – which often puts a strain on all three.
Typically, Arabs have at least three names. In some cases the first or second name may be the one that is most used, and this does not imply familiarity (Arabs often address foreigners politely as “Mr John” or “Dr David”). Saddam, for example, is used by western and Arab media alike because it is more unusual than Hussein. And often Arabs also have familiar names which have no connection with the names on their identity cards; a man might become known after the birth of his first son as “Abu Ahmad”, the father of Ahmad (eg the Palestinian leader Ahmed Qureia is commonly known as Abu Ala).
Where a particular spelling has become widely accepted through usage we should retain it. Where an individual with links to the west has clearly adopted a particular spelling of his or her own name, we should respect that. For breaking news and stories using names for which the Guardian has no established style, we take the lead given by Reuters wire copy.
Note also that names in some parts of the Arab world have become gallicised, while others have become anglicised, eg the leading Egyptian film director Youssef Chahine uses a French spelling instead of the English transliteration, Shaheen.
Some guidelines (for use particularly where there is no established transliteration):
Means “the”. In names it is not capitalised, eg Ahmad al-Saqqaf, and can be dropped after the first mention (Mr Saqqaf). For placenames the Guardian drops it altogether. Sometimes it appears as as- or ash- or ad- or ul-: these should be ignored and can be safely rewritten as al-. But some Arabs, including Syrians and Egyptians, prefer to use el- in place of al-.
Exceptions: by convention, Allah (al-Lah, literally “the God”) is written as one word and capitalised; and in Saudi royal names, Al Saud is correct (in this case, “al” is actually “aal” and does not mean “the”).
abdul, abu and bin
These are not self-contained names, but are connected to the name that follows:
abdul means “slave of … ” and so cannot correctly be used on its own. There are standard combinations, “slave of the merciful one”, “slave of the generous one”, etc, which all indicate that the person is a servant of God. In transliteration, “abd” (slave) is lower case, eg Ahmad abd al-Rahman al-Saqqaf, except when used at the start of a name.
abu (father of) and bin (son of) are similar. When they appear in the middle of a name they should be lower case and are used in combination with the following part of the name: Faisal abu Ahmad al-Saqqaf, Faisal bin Ahmad al-Saqqaf.
Despite the above, some people are actually known as “Abdul”. This is more common among non-Arab Muslims. And some Arabs run “abd” or “abu” into the following word, eg the writer Abdelrahman Munif.
Our style for the prophet's name and for most Muhammads living in Arab countries, though where someone’s preferred spelling is known we respect it, eg Mohamed Al Fayed, Mohamed ElBaradei. The spelling Mohammed (or variants) is considered archaic by most British Muslims, and disrespectful by many of them.
Be wary of names where the first word is Muhandis or Qadi: these are honorary titles, meaning engineer and judge respectively
Arafat, Yasser archbishops
the Archbishop of Canterbury, (the Right Rev) Rowan Williams, at first mention, thereafter Dr Williams or the archbishop; the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, on first mention, subsequently Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor or the archbishop
the Ven Paul Olive, Archdeacon of Farringdon, at first mention; then Mr Olive (unless he is a Dr), or the archdeacon
the army, the British army, the navy, but Royal Navy, Royal Air Force (RAF is OK)
hands on hips, elbows out; we have had “legs akimbo” in the paper (uncomfortable as well as ungrammatical)
about or approximately are better, eg “about £1m” or “approximately 2,000 people”
are a traditional and perfectly acceptable form of wedlock across southern Asia and within the Asian community in Britain; they should not be confused with forced marriages, which are arranged without the consent of one or both partners, and have been widely criticised
not artiste (except, possibly, in a historical context)
lc, art deco, art nouveau, cubism, dadaism, gothic, impressionism, pop art, surrealism, etc, but Bauhaus, Modern (in the sense of Modern British, to distinguish it from “modern art”, pre-Raphaelite, Romantic (to differentiate between a romantic painting and a Romantic painting)
Arts Council ascendancy, ascendant Ashura
a day of voluntary fasting for Muslims; Shia Muslims also commemorate the martyrdom of Hussein, a grandson of the prophet. For their community, therefore, it is not a festival but a day of deep mourning
capital of Paraguay
Someone seeking refugee status or humanitarian protection; there is no such thing as an “illegal asylum seeker”. Refugees are people who have fled their home countries in fear for their lives, and may have been granted asylum under the 1951 refugee convention or qualify for humanitarian protection or discretionary leave, or have been granted exceptional leave to remain in Britain. An asylum seeker can only become an illegal immigrant if he or she remains in Britain after having failed to respond to a removal notice
1500m but 5,000m (the former is the “fifteen hundred” not “one thousand five hundred” metres)
or just the Atlantic
(1883-1967) Labour prime minister 1945-51, often misspelt as Atlee
lc, no hyphen
used to make holes augur predict or presage
means Supreme Truth sect, but note that the “aum” means sect, so to talk about the “Aum sect” or “Aum cult” is tautologous
au pair Australian Labor party
an incurable neurological disorder, to be used only when referring to the condition, not as a term of abuse, or in producing such witticisms as “mindless moral autism” and “Star Wars is a form of male autism”, both of which have appeared in the paper; autistic someone with autism, not someone with poor social skills
TM; teleprompter is a generic alternative
awards, prizes, medals
generally lc, eg Guardian first book award, Nobel peace prize, Fields medal (exceptions: the Academy Awards, Victoria Cross); note that categories are lc, eg “he took the best actor Oscar at the awards”
noun Azerbaijani adjective; note that there are ethnic Azeris living in, for example, Armenia
A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z BAA
do not call it the British Airports Authority, its former name
US regional telephone companies formed after the breakup of AT&T in 1984
newspaper or politics; backbenches, backbenchers
plural of bacterium, so don’t write “the bacteria is”
formerly British Aerospace
Baghdad bail out
a prisoner, a company or person in financial difficulty; the noun is bail-out; but bale out a boat or from an aircraft
bakewell tart balk
obstruct, pull up, stop short baulk area of a snooker table
ballot, balloted Band-Aid
TM; say plaster or sticking plaster
lc the: the Beatles, the Black Eyed Peas, the The; but uc equivalents in other languages, eg Les Négresses Vertes, Los Lobos
Bank of England
the Bank (uc) is acceptable on subsequent mentions
www.bankofengland.co.uk bank holiday banknote bar
(legal) she was called to the bar; (political) of the House of Commons
barbecue Barclays Bank barcode barmitzvah, batmitzvahBarnardo's
children's charity, formerly Dr Barnardo’s; it no longer runs orphanages
we call them lords and ladies, even at first mention: Lady Thatcher, Lady Blackstone, Lady Jay, Lord Callaghan, etc
Barons Court baroque Basle
Basque country bas-relief Battenberg
(not Battenburg) German family name that became Mountbatten; battenberg cake lc
battlebus Bauhaus B&B
abbreviation for bed and breakfast
BBC1, BBC2, BBC3, BBC4
but AD1066 see AD
Beaton, Sir Cecil (1904-80) Society photographer
B&Q beau plural beaux bebop, hard bop, post-bop Becket, Thomas
(1118-70) murdered Archbishop of Canterbury, not Thomas à Becket
bed blocking bedouin beef wellington Beeton, Mrs
(Isabella Mary Beeton, 1836-65) author of the Book of Household Management
befitted begs the question
A tricky one, best avoided since it is almost invariably misused: it means assuming a proposition that, in reality, involves the conclusion. An example would be to say that parallel lines will never meet because they are parallel, assuming as a fact the thing you are professing to prove. What it does not mean is “raises the question”
sheep that leads the herd; customarily misspelt, misused, or both
benefited, benefiting Benefits Agency Benetton Berchtesgaden berks and wankers
Kingsley Amis identified two principal groups in debates over use of language: “Berks are careless, coarse, crass, gross and of what anybody would agree is a lower social class than one’s own; wankers are prissy, fussy, priggish, prim and of what they would probably misrepresent as a higher social class than one’s own”
These are meaningless to many readers, and we frequently get them wrong. But here’s a brief explanation: Long odds (eg 100-1 against, normally expressed as 100-1) mean something unlikely; shorter odds (eg 10-1) still mean it’s unlikely, but less unlikely; odds on (eg 2-1 on, sometimes expressed as 1-2) means it is likely, so if you were betting £2 you would win only £1 plus the stake.
Take care using the phrase “odds on”: if Labour is quoted by bookmakers at 3-1 to win a byelection, and the odds are cut to 2-1, it is wrong to say “the odds on Labour to win were cut last night” — in fact, the odds against Labour to win have been cut (the shorter the price, the more likely something is expected to happen).
It gets more complicated when something is genuinely odds on, ie bookmakers quote a price of “2-1 on”: in this case, if the Labour candidate is quoted at 2-1 on and becomes an even hotter favourite, at 3-1 on, the odds have shortened; if Labour loses popularity, and 2-1 on becomes, say, 7-4 on or evens, the odds have lengthened
Labour health minister (1945-51) and architect of the NHS, also known as Nye Bevan Bevin, Ernest Labour foreign secretary (1945-51) who helped to create Nato
Beverly Hills Beyoncé biannual
twice a year, biennial every two years; biannual is almost always misused: to avoid confusion stick with the alternative twice-yearly; two-yearly is an alternative to biennial
bias, biased Bible
cap up if referring to Old or New Testament; lc in such sentences as “the Guardian style guide is my bible”; biblical lc
Use a modern translation, not the Authorised Version. From a reader:“Peradventure the editor hath no copy of Holy Writ in the office, save the King James Version only. Howbeit the great multitude of believers knoweth this translation not. And he (or she) who quoteth the words of Jesus in ancient form, sheweth plainly that he (or she) considereth them to be out of date. Wherefore let them be quoted in such manner that the people may understand."
Genesis 1:1; II Corinthians 2:13; Revelation 3:16 (anyone calling it “Revelations” will burn in hell for eternity)
a 200th anniversary bicentennial its adjective
singular and plural, there is no such thing as a bicep
use only in a financial sense, eg Manchester United have made a bid for Henry, or auction room
usually preferable to major, massive, giant, mammoth, behemoth, etc, particularly in news copy
bigot, bigoted bill
lc, even when giving full name; cap up only if it becomes an act
one thousand million, not one million million: in copy use bn for sums of money, quantities or inanimate objects: £10bn, 1bn litres of water; otherwise billion: 6 billion people, etc; use bn in headlines
TM; no apostrophe
also known as birders, not “twitchers”; they go birdwatching or birding, not “twitching”
the Right Rev Clifford Richard, Bishop of Wimbledon, at first mention; thereafter the bishop or Bishop Richard; it is OK to leave out the Right Rev
means “in the name of God” in Arabic
lc noun and adjective when referring to race
Black Country black economy
prefer hidden or parallel economy
is banned, unless in a quote, but even then treat with scepticism (imagine the police saying they were “investigating an incident of white-on-white violence between Millwall and West Ham supporters”)
blackout Blair/Booth, Cherie
wishes to be called Mrs Blair when we are referring to her role as the wife of the prime minister; if she is appearing in court or at a function related to her work as a lawyer, she is Cherie Booth QC (Ms Booth on second mention)
not beeper; synonym for pager
blitz, blitzkrieg blond
adjective and male noun; blonde female noun: the woman is a blonde, because she has blond hair; the man has blond hair and is, if you insist, a blond
take care when writing about the death toll: 13 died in Derry on January 30 1972, but a 14th victim died from a brain tumour several months later, so we should use a phrase such as “which led to 14 deaths”
TM; beware of using phrases like “a bluffer's guide to crimewriting”, a headline that led to a complaint from the copyright holder
Oxford v Cambridge
golf, ghost; bogie trolley, truck
capital of Colombia
bona fide, bona fides Bonham Carter, Helena bookcase, bookkeeper, bookseller, bookshelf book titles
are not italicised, except in the newspaper’s Review section; lc for a, an, and, of, on, the (unless they are the first word of the title): A Tale of Two Cities, The Pride and the Passion, etc
not bon viveur
bored with, by
not bored of
Boston Strangler both
unnecessary in most sentences that contain “and”; “both men and women” says no more than “men and women”, and takes longer; if you do use it, it is plural: “both women have reached the tops of their professions”
Boundary Commission bourgeois
adjective bourgeoisie noun
former UN secretary general; Mr Boutros-Ghali at second mention
male under 18
boyfriend boy’s own brackets
If the sentence is logically and grammatically complete without the information contained within the parentheses (round brackets), the punctuation stays outside the brackets. (A complete sentence that stands alone in parentheses starts with a capital letter and ends with a stop.)
“Square brackets,” the grammarian said, “are used in direct quotes when an interpolation [a note from the writer, not uttered by the speaker] is added to provide essential information.”
avoid tabloidese such as “Howard brands Blair a liar”
These terms are synonymous: Britain is the official short form of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Used as adjectives, therefore, British and UK mean the same. Great Britain, however, refers only to England, Wales and Scotland.
Take care not to write Britain when you might mean only England and Wales, for example when referring to the education system. See Scotland
Britart British Council British Film Institute
BFI on second mention
British Library British Medical Association
(doctors' trade union), BMA on second mention
www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk Britpop Britvic
family of Flemish painters
Brum, Brummie brussels sprouts brutalise
render brutal, not treat brutally; so soldiers may be brutalised by the experience of war
bovine spongiform encephalopathy; no need to spell out
British summer time
the palace on second mention
a form of carbon, named after the US engineer Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983)