The new stylebooks are here! The new stylebooks are here!

I exchanged Tweets this morning with Paul Colford, director of media relations at The Associated Press. He was busily promoting the AP’s new U.S. Elections Style Guide, with tidbits such as this:

Election Day is uppercase; election night is not. See @AP’s new U.S. Elections Style Guide:

I replied that I thought that had always been the rule, which caused Mr. Colford (see how I violated AP style there by calling him “Mr.”? I’m such a rebel) to respond that there was lots of other good stuff there.

I started looking into the subject, and saw that a whole new AP stylebook came out a couple of months ago, and I didn’t even know it. I’m not sure I even would have known it had I still been working at a newspaper. Aside from the fact that as editorial page editor I had long been deviating from AP style intentionally for years, I sensed that it wasn’t as big a deal as it had once been even among the mullahs of style orthodoxy.

(For those who have not spent their adult lives as journalists, perhaps I should explain: The AP stylebook is the guide to proper spelling and usage most widely accepted in print journalism. Newspapers that didn’t have their own full stylebooks — the vast majority — used it as their official bible, only issuing addenda for exceptions, local place names and the like.)

In my long-ago days as a copy editor (which was so long ago that I forget whether it is properly spelled that way or “copyeditor,” a lapse on my part that may be some sort of PTSD symptom), things were different. My colleagues and I who spent our days around the horseshoe-shaped desk at The Jackson Sun were really excited about the 1977 edition. We actually had a party at the managing editor’s house to distribute them. And there was much in this new release to satisfy the socially-challenged pedant. That was when the stylebook went, for the first time, from being a slim paper pamphlet that resembled the tracts that fundamentalists passed out with titles like “The Antichrist in Rome” to the thick, rich, spiral-bound volume that made it seem more like the Ultimate Answer to All Questions.

But that was then. In my last years at the paper, think I had one somewhere around my desk, but I almost never consulted it, and it was probably badly out of date. On the rare occasions when I looked something up to see what the style was so I could decide whether I wanted to follow it or not, I did so electronically. And yet I see one can still order the spiral-bound version.

Which is kind of nice. But it feels like almost as much an artifact of the past as those phone books that once so excited Navin Johnson.

9 thoughts on “The new stylebooks are here! The new stylebooks are here!

  1. Brad

    For those who are unfamiliar with the scope of influence of this publication, I give an example, although only people my age and older are likely to get the reference.

    Remember how in the 1970s and earlier, most newspapers in this country spelled the word “employee” as “employe”? Did it make you wonder why nobody in print journalism seemed to know how to spell?

    Well, they did it that way because the AP Stylebook insisted it be done that way. AP gave in and started letting us spell it the normal way starting about 30 years ago.

    I’ve always sort of suspected that they spelled it “employe” for so long just as an arbitrary exercise of power, just to show how many thousands of journalists they could get to misspell a word in a maddeningly stupid and counterintuitive manner, like so many sheep…

  2. Burl Burlingame

    And someone who employs people is an employeer.

    Word creation aside — ha ha! — one of the first things I did as a museum curator was distribute AP Stylebooks to every office. Suddenly our documents have clarity and consistency.

  3. Steven Davis II

    What book do bloggers like FitsNews use? Whatever it is, it seems to be working for them.

  4. Mark Stewart

    The book is devoid of visual style; in an interesting, coherent sense. Amusing it’s like that.

  5. Greg

    We had a disagreement over middle school curriculum regarding this type of issue.
    They were teaching 7th graders how to type/write (yes, I know the difference) business letters and “unbound one-sided reports”. I argued that I wrote for business everyday and never needed any of that stuff. And if I ever did, I had a book on my bookshelf that would tell me what I needed. It was some kind of publication guide my wife had for her masters thesis.
    I found it all a big waste. While I don’t fully trust the decisions MS Word makes, I do know it can virtually write anything you need for you.

  6. Cindi Scoppe

    Surely the new stylebook doesn’t suddenly say it’s OK to use a hyphen after adverbs ending in -ly. You know, like, ahem, “socially-challenged.”

  7. Cotton Boll Conspiracy

    I always figured odd anomalies that the AP held onto like “employe” were left over from the days when printing presses used actual type – when one less letter meant one less piece of type to be set.

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