Stylebook not stylin', it's caving in
Sunday, March 23, 2014 12:27 AM
Journalists toss that phrase out as if it gives them swag, like the man who thinks having a subscription to GQ magazine alone will make him a sharp-dressed man.
Readers might not be aware of AP style, but "The Associated Press Stylebook" is to a newspaper journalist (more so than other mediums) what the Bible is to a preacher.
That is, at least it used to be. But I'm not so sure anymore.
Every year the AP issues an updated version of its stylebook (there's even an online version that updates throughout the changing year). Yes, it's a savvy way to put dollars in the AP account as destitute journalists fork out big bucks to get the latest and supposedly greatest version of all things AP style, but the fact is the language and its usage does change, so AP's updates generally have merit. And then they — we — pore over the pages the way a 14-year-old boy meticulously studies a Playboy magazine.
LATELY, HOWEVER, MANY OF US are becoming disheartened. We feel a sense of loss, a sense of being cheated and let down by AP. In short, it seems AP is caving in. Rather than be the stalwart of the English language and proper usage of words it has long been known to be, AP simply is going with the flow. It's the adage "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." And it's sad.
It is reminiscent of what our parents used to say about the slow creep of communism and the erosion of our U.S. Constitution. Bit by bit, they take away our constitutional rights and — bam! — next thing you know, you have no rights and you're under communist rule.
Yeah, I feel that strongly about what AP's been doing lately.
It was fine — and about time — when, a few years back, AP took the hyphen out of teenager. And it's fine that as new words come along the AP adds them to the stylebook. Of course the 1951 version did not include such words as "Internet," "World Wide Web," "cellphone" and the like.
JOURNALIST ARE ACCUSTOMED to change. Every day is a new day with a new story but the same deadline to get it done. Change is our middle name.
But — and I do mean but — some changes are totally unacceptable. Or should be.
Late last week, the announcement came that AP was now accepting the interchangeable use of "over" and "more than" for numerical references.
What? No gasp from you, the reader? For shame.
You see, "over," according to AP when it had more credibility with old journalists such as myself, has to do with spatial relationships. That's spatial, not special. OK? "More than" deals with numbers.
Heck. Let's just look at the former explanation the stylebook gave so you'll understand:
Over "generally refers to spatial relationships," as in "The plane flew over the city."
More than "is preferred with numerals," as in "their salaries went up more than $20 a week."
WELL, AS FAR AS I'M concerned the folks editing the stylebook can have their salaries cut by more than $20 a week after their willingness to flip-flop on this one.
"Don't go overboard, Richard," you say. To which I ask, "You mean, don't go more than board?"
Just because too many in the general population abuse and malign the language is not reason enough to simply throw up our arms and surrender. Yes, I err in spelling, punctuation and grammar at times. Our writers err. We have typos. I'm not making excuses, but do remember we are essentially producing the equivalent of a short novel in less than 24 hours, so there will be mistakes. Even today's books that supposedly go through multiple editing processes have their share of gaffes. For the most part, however, journalists treat the language with respect. We're not tagging walls with spray paint.
Another example of AP's acquiescence is the use of back yard versus backyard. This one irritates me so much that I want to have a backyard AP Stylebook burning in my back yard.
Did you see that? As a place outside your home, "back yard." As an adjective, "backyard." Logical, right? Good ole grammar, right?
NOT ANYMORE. A FEW YEARS ago, AP again caved in because so many people couldn't or wouldn't make the distinction — including their own writers. Their solution: Backyard. "One word in all uses."
Well, applying that lame logic shouldn't we now have a frontyard AP Stylebook burning in our frontyard? Or a sideyard AP Stylebook burning in our sideyard? You would think so, but there is no entry for "front yard/frontyard" or "side yard/sideyard."
No, I'm not being overly (more than-ly?) sensitive about this. I'm just disgusted by this willingness to desecrate our language.
Next thing you know, stories written in text-speak will be just fine with AP. And if that occurs, I will not be LOL.
Whiting is executive editor of the Index-Journal. Contact him at 864-943-2522; email firstname.lastname@example.org ,or follow him on Twitter at IJEDITOR. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.