5 AP style changes illustrated with GIFs

The spring is fraught for copy editors as the new edition of the AP Stylebook draws nearer. (This year’s is due at the end of May.) What sacred cows will meet a captive bolt pistol? What shibboleths will be banished from all but the most stubborn lips?

Posts about changes to AP style have melted Poynter’s servers as the journalism world bemoans or celebrates changes to the language guide that animates most newsrooms. Herewith, I revisit a few of those moments, along with GIFs that illustrate the resonance of each change. (Here’s a wonderful timeline of changes to style from 1980 on, and here’s a gallery of covers going back to 1982.)

CHANGE: There’s no longer any distinction between “over” (once used mostly to describe spatial relationships) and “more than” (for numerals).
DATE: March 20, 2014
IMPACT: Like the Chicxulub meteor slamming into the Yucatán peninsula with the force of 300 million nuclear bombs, slaying the dinosaurs and ushering in the Paleogene period. All Stylebook changes will forever be judged in relation to this one.


CHANGE: Spell out the names of states in stories.
DATE: April 23, 2014
IMPACT: Like an Executor-class Imperial Star Dreadnought plunging into the second Death Star, precipitating the downfall of the Galactic Empire.



CHANGE: Don’t use “illegal immigrant” to refer to a person.
DATE: April 2, 2013
IMPACT: Like a Michael Bay movie where New York gets destroyed by asteroids.

TYPICAL COMMENT: Comments on this one were all over the place. Managing Editor Jamie Stockwell told Poynter the San Antonio Express-News stopped using the term long before AP’s change, because it “just didn’t adequately describe people who didn’t have the proper documentation to live in America.”

CHANGE: “Underway,” once “Two words in virtually all uses,” is now “One word in all uses.”
DATE: April 8, 2013
IMPACT: Like a ship full of cement mowing down pleasure boats in a Norwegian marina.



CHANGE: The “modern usage” of “hopefully” is OK. “Correct: ‘You’re leaving soon?’ she asked hopefully.”
DATE: April 17, 2012
IMPACT: Like a table tennis ball smacking a dude in the head.

TYPICAL COMMENT: “At least ‘over’ isn’t yet equivalent to ‘more than’. Not all is lost.”

Here’s my inexcusably outdated 2010 Stylebook getting destroyed by missiles.

Get the latest media news delivered to your inbox.

Select the newsletter(s) you'd like to receive:

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • humansscareme

    So what are we supposed to replace “illegal immigrant” with? Something like: A dude who appears to be from another country and can’t seem to prove he is in the U.S. legally?

  • Scooterch

    Apparently AP is now populated by Millennials with scant regard for the temporary popularity of certain words, expressions and usage. Fashion does not equate to correctness, nor is it right to embrace changes merely to better reflect a semi-literate audience. Removing the distinction between “over” and “more than” is a case in point. However, if the changes are so dramatic and repugnant, where is the protest? Where can I sharpen my pitchfork and join the march against these linguistic idiocies? Is our only choice to switch to a new style guide?

  • Egg Man

    i think the new list will ordain that internet be lowercased, a little birdie tells me…

  • ThorsTheTroll

    “Illegal immigrant” isn’t adequate to describe people who don’t have proper documentation? Well, they’re immigrants. And they’re in the country illegally. So, it seems like it’s adequate.