Game changer: AP Stylebook moves faster than Merriam-Webster as linguistic authority

Merriam-WebsterAssociated Press | The Atlantic Wire

Merriam-Webster has officially sanctioned a bunch of words by adding them to the dictionary, hereby removing most of the fun of saying things like "F-bomb" and "sexting." Merriam-Webster paints this as a way of keeping up with the changing nature of language, but of course we all know that it's a direct challenge to the AP Stylebook, which every cardiganed copy editor knows is the true arbiter of a journalist's vocabulary.

The inclusion of these words raises an interesting question: Which is more in tune with the English language: Merriam-Webster, which traces its origins to the early 1800s, or the AP's Stylebook, which only two years ago sanctioned "website"? (Related question: If AP Stylebook and Merriam-Webster are enjoying a drink at a bar and Urban Dictionary walks in, do they even give him a polite nod?)

Herewith, a list of some newly-added words, with the closest corresponding guidance from the AP. Much of this guidance comes from the AP's Ask the Editor, the Stylebook's hip, Williamsburg-dwelling, younger sibling.

aha moment: The AP agrees on the spelling: "Deferring to Webster's aha, interjection to express surprise, triumph, satisfaction, etc."

craft beer: The AP has not weighed in on this, but this "Ask the editor" entry suggests that a certain AP employee is a fan of such beverages:

is the plural of beer: beers?
A. jawohl!

cloud computing: The AP is way ahead of Merriam-Webster here, having advised several times that it's not capitalized or hyphenated.

earworm: I had hoped that the AP would've cited the agricultural definition.

e-reader: The Stylebook has included this word since at least 2010.

F-bomb: Not in the AP Stylebook. Closest guidance is the AP's "Ask the Editor," is to hyphenate "F-word."

game changer: This phrase was not included in the AP's recent election style guide, though similar cliches were discouraged. In 2009, "Ask the Editor" advised that this should be unhyphenated like "opinion shaper" and "shoe thrower." The use of all three words in an AP story would reveal journalistic secrets on the scale of "The Da Vinci Code."

gastropub: The AP is ahead of the curve on this one, advising in 2010: "The term describes taverns, inns or restaurants with higher-end food and beer brewed on site. It's used occasionally in AP stories."

geocaching: Noted in a 2009 "Ask the Editor" answer.

man cave: The AP blessed the use of this term without quotation marks back in 2010.

mash-up: Merriam-Webster and the Stylebook agree on the definitions, but the Stylebook says it's not hyphenated.

sexting: In response to a question, AP's "Ask the editor" recommends defining it in a story. Just try that in conversation. "The other night we were sexting, which as you know is the process of sending sexually suggestive text messages to one another."

shovel-ready: The AP's only guidance has been that such "-ready" words are hypenated.

underwater: Of course the AP was ahead on this, having covered the Great Recession, which also has been officially sanctioned by the Stylebook.

Related: Descriptive dictionaries make man nauseous (The Baltimore Sun)

  • Steve Myers

    Steve Myers was the managing editor of until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens, a nonprofit investigative news site in New Orleans.


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