AP changes style on ‘underway’: Copy editors react

Two days after changing its style on the term “illegal immigrant,” the Associated Press issued a Stylebook update that’s significant but in a much quieter way:

One word in all uses.

OK, it’s a big deal mostly to copy editors, many of whom have spent a good part of their professional lives jamming a space into “underway.”

Here’s the old listing:

under way Two words in virtually all uses: The project is under way. The naval maneuvers are under way.

One word only when used as an adjective before a noun in a nautical sense: an underway flotilla.

I surveyed a few copy-editing icons on whether the AP switch would occasion one at their organizations:

• “Nothing in the works at this point,” New York Times Associate Managing Editor for Standards Philip Corbett writes in an email to Poynter.

• “Probably,” writes John McIntyre of The Baltimore Sun. “We minimize our exceptions to AP style, and the stylebook editors are correct that their ruling is consonant with what the dictionaries find to be common usage.”

• “The Post has used the one-word form forever,” The Washington Post’s Bill Walsh writes. He followed that email with forensic analysis comparing occurrences of “under way” vs. “underway” in the Post until 1990, which he thinks indicates the paper made the change in 1989. Here’s his research, which I made into a chart:

“The numbers could be skewed by ‘underway flotillas,’ of course, but I can’t imagine it’s by much,” Walsh writes. “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that usage outside a stylebook.”

Here are some tweets I found about the change:

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  • http://www.facebook.com/seriousscholar Rocky Citro

    I’m not bothered too much by the change, although having the adverb as two words does seem more natural to me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.knilands Robert Knilands

    Probably. He really worked his source pool hard, too. Same people quoted as always.

  • Dr. Syn Syn

    English is an ever-evolving language. Get used to it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Egg-Man/681171228 Egg Man

    what about underwater vs under water? and if Dumpster is capped what about lowercasing internet?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Lange/100000489723304 Mike Lange

    It depends. The last time I checked, the N.Y. Times stylebook has the word capitalized. Some dictionaries say that it’s now considered a generic term for a trash container.
    But in the world of trademark infringement concerns, I’d err on the side of caution. I once got a nasty letter from an attorney about using Frisbee in a lower case while working for a tiny weekly newspaper in Maine.

  • pr

    No, the next thing will be insisting that all references to dumpster be uppercase.

  • http://twitter.com/susancasewv Susan Case

    The outraged comments are amusing. People really hate change, don’t they? Editors have been correcting me on underway for a long time; I always thought it was one word.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=749911534 facebook-749911534
  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.graham.77 Steve Graham

    The next thing will be when AP gives its blessing to “alot” as a single word.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dave.weinstock Dave Weinstock

    Who cares? AP Style is what it is…the pervailing written style used by most U.S. news organizations. News organizations that take exception to AP Style often publish their own style books, often based on AP Style. AP Style is AP’s to change or not.
    What’s up, Andrew? Slow news day?

  • http://www.facebook.com/barryfriedman Barry Friedman

    When I was a reporter and editor at an afternoon newspaper, everybody on the staff knew the style was “under way” because we used the phrase daily in our late editions. Our deadlines were late morning/early afternoon, so lots of events were still under way when we published.

    Since switching to a morning paper almost 31 years ago, I rarely encountered “under way” in reporters’ copy; when I did it was almost always written as one word and I had to insert the space.

    It makes me wonder whether “under way” would have survived as two words had afternoon newspapers still been around to keep it fresh.

  • http://rtberner.blogspot.com/ R Thomas Berner

    As a Navy veteran from the 60s, I always thought it was one word. ;-)

  • http://twitter.com/TheBadPrince JOMI™

    AP: “Let’s adapt to all common American English mistakes and make the people who are right all along to be ‘wrong.’ What you got now smart asses. Or is it smartasses?”

  • John Banusiewicz

    This change doesn’t bother me as much as the fact that AP has changed many longstanding points of style in recent years that I have to verify style exponentially more than I’ve had to since I was a new editor decades ago. It’s easy to read through copy written in the old style without correcting it, which makes our copy inconsistent. I considered myself an AP style expert for a long time, but now I feel like a beginner.

  • http://twitter.com/FreshRag Fresh Rag

    This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve read all week. I get it, but it’s still ridiculous.