AP’s year of freaking out language geeks

December 31, 2014
Category: Uncategorized


In March, the editors of the AP Stylebook changed a rule that may seem obscure to non-journalists: No longer would it enforce a distinction between “over” and “more than.”

The news of this change was Poynter’s most popular post of 2014, and reactions from journalists, many of whom had treasured the rule, were sometimes sad and often hilarious.

But AP’s reign of terror wasn’t more than yet (OK, I’ll stop now). The next month it issued guidance that probably had a greater effect on journalists: “Effective May 1, the AP will spell out state names in the body of stories.” No more “Calif.”! No more looking up Wisconsin’s abbreviation! (“Wis.” just never looked right.) A lot more mnemonic devices (I use the chorus of this song to remember how to spell Tennessee).

Another change welcomed by every reporter who covers the Washington, D.C., area: They could use “District” on second reference to the District of Columbia.

Why do these changes engage our journalist meta-society so? As Jill Geisler wrote about the “over”/”more than” change, it signaled to some people that they had to let go “a part of their expert identity.” She continued:

Those who’ve made a commitment to studying language, memorizing its rules, and protecting its integrity have been correcting and coaching others for years — either as vocation or avocation. They’ve righteously talked or tussled with writers about “more than” and “over” — citing the AP Stylebook as the argument settler. Now the argument is over. Wrong is now right. On this one, everyone’s now the expert.

AP published its 2014 Stylebook in May. It included the term “selfie” (“a self-portrait photo taken with a phone or webcam and shared over a social network”). And, you know, the world somehow kept spinning — though brace yourself if “usie” ever gets enshrined.

AP plans to publish its next Stylebook in May 2015. Sally Jacobsen, a Stylebook editor, said the team “is currently reviewing and updating our entries based on suggestions from our staff, the public and changes in the use of news terms and phrases.” Want to make a suggestion? Head more than here. Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

Related: 5 AP style changes illustrated with GIFs


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