Just as California offers the most neutral and unobtrusive variety of American English (we don’t think of someone having a “California accent”), so The Associated Press Stylebook offers the most neutral, unobtrusive, and inoffensive choices in spelling, punctuation, and usage. For this reason both are worthy of note as reflecting the norm, the unmarked version of American English.
They come to their roles for different reasons. East of the Mississippi, American dialects are layered north to south, but westward migration across the Rockies to the Pacific mingled speakers sufficiently that their offspring compromised in a neutral variety. It all happened naturally, without guidance from any authorities.
The AP stylebook, on the other hand, was crafted consciously by editors looking to keep readers from being distracted by inconsistencies or oddities in style. You can find what’s new, newsworthy, and newly normal by the additions and revisions the editors make from time to time.
On March 24, AP announced what’s new, at least to its stylebook, in recent months. It’s not as if all or even most of these are new phenomena, but their form and usage are newly stipulated, some with definitions but others just with the form itself. We learn, for example, that selfie is to be spelled that way and not selfy, the less popular variant. On Google, a million instances of selfy show up, but 40 million of selfie.
Some of the entries give words or phrases without further explanation, presumably in the assumption that any journalist would know what they mean but might not know which spelling to use:
dis, dissing, dissed
Buffalo wings. Also Buffalo sauce
But most of the additions have brief explanations to help reporters stay current on topics making news in 2014: They include:
bitcoin A digital currency created and exchanged independent of banks or governments. The currency can be converted into cash when deposited into accounts at prices set in online trading. Lowercase in all uses.
LGBT Acceptable on first reference for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. Should be spelled out in body of the story.
selfie Self-portrait photo generally taken with a camera-equipped phone or webcam. A photo is most commonly called a selfie when shared over a social network.
Snapchat A messaging app in which users can capture photos or brief video clips, add text or drawings and share them with friends, who will then be able to see them for a brief period of time defined by the sender.
There are cultural terms from around the world:
emoji Symbols including cartoon faces, hand gestures, food and animals, often used on mobile devices such as smartphones. They can be used instead of words or as illustrations in text messages and in social media.
gurdwara A house of worship in the Sikh religion where the faith’s scriptures are stored.
halal Arabic for permitted or lawful. The word is used to describe foods allowed under Islamic dietary laws. Always lowercase.
And there are food terms like aioli, medical terms like HPV, weather terms like polar vortex and many more. But among them is a quiet announcement about the use of the preposition over, upsetting a longstanding shibboleth of newspaper style. More about that next week.Return to Top