May 1, 2020

It’s AP Stylebook update time and … take a cleansing breath … they’re pretty vanilla.

In pre-coronavirus days, you might join me in finding this disappointing. Documenting the evolution of language in real time is fascinating.

Some changes, like the shift that removed the distinction between over/more than, exploded with the effort it took generations of journalists to rewire their grammar brains. Others, like when they became acceptable as a singular pronoun, felt appropriate to reflect an evolving understanding about gender. And last year’s change allowing the % remains my most-read story ever and in Poynter’s top 10 in the last decade. How dare they allow one symbol when seven letters will do?

For many, grammar offers order, and stylebook updates disrupt that.

But this year, in the midst of a global pandemic, as life in some places inches toward resuming, while a lot of us are working remotely/parenting and worried about real things like layoffs and furloughs and toilet paper, the changes to the AP Stylebook are blessedly normal.

Related: AP Stylebook tips on the coronavirus

AP Stylebook editor Paula Froke announced some of them during a virtual panel Friday at the ACES: The Society for Editing national conference.

There are more than 200 new or updated entries. They include:

  • A new entry on gender-neutral language: “Consider any word or term that has the effect of emphasizing one gender over another, for example ‘search’ instead of ‘manhunt’; and use terms such as ‘chair’ or ‘chairperson’ unless the -man or -woman terms are specified by an organization.”
  • Climate change is more accurate: “The terms global warming and climate change are often used interchangeably, but climate change is the more accurate scientific term to describe the various effects of increasing levels of greenhouse gases on the world because it includes extreme weather; storms; and changes in rainfall patterns, ocean acidification and sea level. Global warming, the increase of average temperature around the world, is one aspect of climate change. The terms climate crisis and climate emergency are used by some scientists, policymakers and others, and are acceptable.”
  • Homeless is acceptable as an adjective: “Homeless is generally acceptable as an adjective to describe people without a fixed residence. Avoid the dehumanizing collective noun the homeless, instead using constructions like homeless people, people without housing or people without homes.”
  • Don’t use “mistress”: “Do not use this archaic and sexist term for a woman who is in a long-term sexual relationship with, and is financially supported by, a man who is married to someone else. Instead, use an alternative like companion, friend or lover on first reference and provide additional details later.”
  • Disney+ is acceptable: The symbol is acceptable when it is pronounced as part of a company, brand or event name: Disney+, Apple TV+, ESPN+, CompTia Network+.
  • Before baking that quarantine bread, it’s OK to preheat: Acceptable to refer to heating an oven to a specific temperature before cooking.

One more change this year that, again, feels OK, especially since that newsroom copy of the stylebook isn’t doing many people much good right now: AP Stylebook product manager Colleen Newvine announced at the virtual conference that the printed edition of the AP Stylebook will now come out every other year instead of every year. “The shift to printing a Stylebook every other year comes as more Stylebook users subscribe to the digital product, which is updated continually throughout the year.”

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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