AP style vs. substance

AP StylebooksWhat has gotten into those crusty curmudgeons who edit the Associated Press Stylebook?

For those of you whose own in-house editorial style leans heavily on the AP Stylebook — the self-proclaimed “journalist’s bible” — you may have heard about a couple of big changes to the rules. AP announced them earlier this spring.

They are:

More than vs. over

In March, the editors ruled that the use of over to define quantity is acceptable as a synonym for more than. This change, as Poynter noted, “rock[ed] copy editors to their very cores.”

Prior to the change, over was acceptable only when describing physical proximity. Our plane flew over Kansas on the way to Colorado. Now, over may be used to describe quantity. We have over hundreds in stock.

Nitpicky? Sure. But for those of us reared (not “raised”) on the rules of AP style, this is a significant change. We’ve been replacing “over” with “more than” for years, and some of us took a certain sort of perverse joy by explaining to the edited why “over” was unacceptable. As a colleague told me the other day: “How am I supposed to feel superior to others now?” It’s a dilemma for sure.

As for me, I’m not bothered by this change. “Over” is more economical than “more than,” so it saves space. Five spaces, to be precise. And it saves me the hassle of trying to explain why I took such pains to change a simple word in copy. So, I’m OK with over, even though some aren’t. As for the debate, I’m more than over it.

Spelling out state names

While some of us were still reeling over the AP’s acceptance of over as a synonym for more than, the stylebook editors throw another curve ball just a month later.

In April, AP announced that starting May 1, state names should be spelled out in body copy. Even when following a city. So instead of writing “Rolla, Mo.” (using the antiquated, pre-postal code abbreviation for the state) we’re supposed to write “Rolla, Missouri.”

What the…?

Another arcane AP style rule bites the dust.

As Poynter reported, AP made the change “to be consistent in our style for domestic and international stories. International stories have long spelled out state names in the body of stories.”

I can buy that. We live in and communicate with global audiences. Consistency is good.

But the AP’s historic tendency to favor economy (i.e., shorter is better) falls by the wayside here.

I can live with this style change, too. But I have compassion for those of you in Mississippi and Massachusetts.

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It boils down to this: Language and our use of it evolves. It’s good to see the AP — often considered a dinosaur of journalism and writing — evolving along with it.

Photo: “The old school rules, spiral bound” – by AllaboutGeorge on Flickr

National Grammar Day 2013: Sound off, fellow curmudgeons

Click the image to send a National Grammar Day ecard.
Click the image to send a National Grammar Day greeting to your friends.

Today is National Grammar Day, a day for me and my fellow armchair grammarians to gripe about how our language is routinely butchered and bludgeoned, sometimes beyond recognition.

If you need proof, just take a look at your Twitter or Facebook timeline and count how many errors you find in spelling and syntax, and all the misuses of “Your” for “You’re” or “too” for “to,” and vice versa.

In honor of this national event, I thought I’d ask my fellow grammar nerds and curmudgeons to share their pet peeves. To get things started, here’s one of mine:

The misuse of subject pronouns as objects

Ugh. I can’t stand hearing or seeing otherwise educated people use a subject pronoun as the object (as in “Just between you and I, grammar is a dumb thing to celebrate”).

That’s wrong. That sentence should read, “Just between you and me, grammar is a dumb thing to celebrate.” That’s because the objects of that sentence are the pronouns “you and me.” I guess we’re used to seeing the subjects at the beginning of a sentence, but the example I’m sharing here is an exception. Grammar Girl explains this whole subject-verb-object issue better than I (not “better than me,” which is a whole other topic). Check out her recent post and podcast, I Love You: A Subject-Object Valentine.

So, tell me, fellow grammar geeks: What are your pet grammar peeves?

Stylebook gone wild

Those wild and crazy AP Stylebook editors are at it again, updating their staid collection of writing rules to reflect the fluid atmosphere of the Internet world.

AP StylebooksIn case you missed the news, the editors of the Associated Press Stylebook announced on Friday that the book was changing its use of “Web site” to “website.”

The news came to many of us via a modest @APStylebook tweet. Those who subscribe to the AP’s Online Stylebook received this more complete email notification:

Editor’s Note: A separate entry on website has been added to note a style change from Web site.



A location on the World Wide Web that maintains one or more pages at a specific address. Also, webcam, webcast and webmaster. But as a short form and in terms with separate words, the Web, Web page and Web feed. See Web.

As you can see from the email announcement, the AP has made only a tiny departure from its conservative stance on Internet terms. It’s keeping some of the “big ‘W'” terms intact.

But judging from the reaction in the Twittersphere yesterday, you’d have thought the Vatican had just announced that it was allowing gays into the priesthood. AP Stylebook finally was a trending topic on Twitter, and coverage of the announcement by Mashable — that arbiter of all things relevant in the online world — was Mashable’s most retweeted link of the day on Friday. (Too bad for Mashable’s more pop culture-oriented retweetable topics, such as the Glee in 60 seconds video and the sudden Facebook popularity of South Park loser Kip Drordy.)

In the higher ed twittersphere, there was much jubilation over the announcement. But it also means some work ahead for those who have been following the AP’s book as though it were holy writ. It put folks like J.D. Ross, director of new media at Hamilton College, into update mode almost immediately: “Only 1,540 instances of ‘Web site’ on our Web… er, uh website… this will be fun!”

I’ve never considered myself or the campus I work for as rogues, but we’ve been using “website” since the early 2000s. In a January 2009 post about whether or not it made sense to capitalize Internet or revise it to internet with a little “i” (I doubt we’ll see the AP do anything as radical as lowercasing that term), I explained that our campus has “veered away from the AP rules for our own in-house style when it comes to Internet terms. We’ve looked to other sources for guidance — namely, Wired Style: Principles of English Usage in the Digital Age, by Constance Hale and Jessie Scanlon. As a result, we changed our style way back in the early 2000s to lowercase ‘web,’ combine (and lowercase) ‘website’ and dehyphenate ’email.'”

Here’s our rationale, from our in-house style guide:

Missouri S&T uses a combination of Wired and Associated Press styles when writing about the Internet. Because most of our audiences are Internet-savvy, we feel more comfortable embracing the less formal style of Wired as opposed to the conservative approach of the Associated Press Stylebook.

In some ways, the AP is a lot like the Vatican. It creates rules and issues pronouncements that many of the laity don’t take all that seriously anymore. Both institutions are struggling with their role in modernity.

But the AP differs from the Vatican in one important way: The AP sought input from the laity. Sally Jacobsen, deputy managing editor for projects at the AP and one of three Stylebook editors, explained that the editors “had invited readers and users of the Stylebook to offer us some suggestions for a new social media guide that we’re including in the 2010 Stylebook, and we got a very good response and a large number of people who favored ‘website’ as one word.” (Source: Some Cheer, Jeer AP Change from ‘Web site’ to ‘website’, by Mallary Jean Tenore at the Poynter Institute.)

Still, I’m amazed at how many people in higher education follow the AP Stylebook nearly to the letter. Even Mashable, in its much-tweeted report, refers to the AP Stylebook as “still the standard for all things grammar and punctuation in the news world” and confesses it has stuck with the AP’s “Web site” rule until only “several months ago.” I’m not sure exactly how long ago “several months” is, but it sounds as though our conservative little tech campus in the Midwest was well ahead of the curve in adopting the use of “website” some “several years ago.”

I think I’ll propose we start calling the Internet the “innerwebz.” Maybe it’s time for a LOLcats stylebook. O hai! There’s an idea!

Photo: “The old school rules, spiral bound” – by AllaboutGeorge on Flickr

National Grammar Day: to infinitives and beyond

grammarToday is National Grammar Day. Missouri S&T’s public relations manager, @mhstoltz, informed me of this yesterday.

Today is the day to celebrate grammar. Get out your Strunk and White, undangle those participles, rejoin those infinitives and get your good grammar groove on. (Or should that be “get on your good grammar groove,” so as to not end the sentence with a preposition?)

(And yes, I’m sure true grammar lovers are shocked — shocked! — that there is no serial comma in the second sentence in the above paragraph. Sometimes more modern writing conventions, or the Associated Press Stylebook’s punctuation edicts, trump those old-school grammar rules.)

In honor of this day, maybe we should talk about the subject of grammar. In this day of text msgs, telegraphic tweets and the death of the serial comma, what constitutes good grammar?

Or maybe we should air our pet grammar peeves? Here’s one of mine:

10itemsorlessConfusing less and fewer. Grocery stores do this all the time with their “10 items or less” signs. Here’s an easy way to remember which is which:

If it’s stuff you can count, use fewer. As in: “I have fewer than 10 items in my shopping cart — that is, if my six-pack of light beer, which contains fewer calories per serving than regular beer, counts as a single item — therefore, I shall check out via the ’10 items or less’ lane.”

If it’s stuff you can’t count or quantify, then use less. As in: “I am less drunk than Bob, even though he drank fewer beers than I.”

If that isn’t clear enough, consult Grammar Girl’s tip on the fewer/less conundrum.

And tell me:

  1. How do you plan to celebrate National Grammar Day?
  2. What is your pet grammar peeve? (Limit two or less fewer per commenter, please.)

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* Top image from Behind the Grammar. Bottom image from a Yahoo movie page.

Matters of style: Internet (or is it “internet”?) terms

Got into an interesting exchange on Twitter last night about how higher ed marketing people address writing style for Internet lingo.

I found it interesting that many people whom I consider to be “cutting-edge” when it comes to social media and online communication still lean heavily on the granddaddy of style guides, The Associated Press Stylebook. Even when it comes to writing about this online world we’re so immersed in. They still capitalize “Web,” hyphenate “e-mail” and consider “Web site” two words. I forgot to ask whether they still call blogs “web logs.” How quaint would that be?

I have nothing against the AP Stylebook. In journalism school, it was holy writ. And on our campus, we’ve used AP style as the foundation for our own university style. But let’s face it. The AP Stylebook editors are a conservative lot. They’re years behind the time. And they don’t have the humor of the old UPI Stylebook editors, who inserted this witty entry amidst all the stylistic rules:

burro, burrow A burro is an ass. A burrow is a hole in the ground. As a journalist, you are expected to know the difference.

When it comes to Internet terms, I think the AP rules are not only humorless, but unnecessarily staid. Irrelevantly staid, even.

So over the past several years, we’ve veered away from the AP rules for our own in-house style when it comes to Internet terms. We’ve looked to other sources for guidance — namely, Wired Style: Principles of English Usage in the Digital Age, by Constance Hale and Jessie Scanlon. As a result, we changed our style way back in the early 200s 2000s to lowercase “web,” combine (and lowercase) “website” and dehyphenate “email.” I don’t think it’s that radical. As we observe in our in-house style guide:

Missouri S&T uses a combination of Wired and Associated Press styles when writing about the Internet. Because most of our audiences are Internet-savvy, we feel more comfortable embracing the less formal style of Wired as opposed to the conservative approach of the Associated Press Stylebook.

One argument against violating the sacred rules of AP may come from the media relations folks, who will claim (as I once did) that we’re writing for journalists, and journalists follow AP style. Pish posh. We’re not writing for journalists anymore. We’re writing directly to our various audiences, and more and more of them are getting their information from onlline sources.

Back in 2004, Wired decided to lowercase the “i” in “internet, a move that I just can’t bring myself to embrace. Yet.

Still, I admire Wired’s chutzpah. The Wired editors’ argument for lowercasing the i-word makes sense. “The simple answer is because there is no earthly reason to capitalize any of these words [internet, net, web]. Actually, there never was.”

They went on to poke fun at those of us who clink to our style guides like well-worn security blankets:

True believers are fond of capitalizing words, whether they be marketers or political junkies or, in this case, techies. If It’s Capitalized, It Must Be Important. In German, where all nouns are capitalized, it makes sense. It makes no sense in English. So until we become Die Wired Nachrichten, we’ll just follow customary English-language usage.

Interestingly, Wired has yet to incorporate downstyle in its headlines. (The headline to the post referenced above was, “It’s Just the ‘internet’ Now.” Note all those capitalized words. What’s up with that — other than the first letter of every word except the one that most of us would uppercase?)

Anyway, with all of Steve Jobs’ new lowercase “i” words now so prevalent — iPods, iPhones — maybe now is the time to boldly embrace the newfangled lowercase internet.

Or maybe it should be iNternet? I bet Steve Jobs would love that.