Fix it, AP Stylebook

March 31, 2012|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

I am not a bomb-throwing anarchist; I observe the stanch/staunchdistinction and never identify plastic foam cups or dishes as Styrofoam. Nevertheless, there is a good deal of rubbish in the Associated Press Stylebook, entries that are badly outdated or simply wrong-headed. Moved purely by a spirit of generosity, I offer a few suggestions for improvement.

The split verbs entry

There is nothing wrong with placing an adverb between the preposition to and a verb in English, and never has been since Chaucer was a schoolboy. The "rule" against splitting infinitives is one of the hoariest schoolroom superstitions.

And like unto it is the belief among journalists that it is somehow illegitimate to place an adverb between the auxiliary and the main verb. Make it plain, AP:

The split infinitive, (to boldly go, to strongly protest) is common and acceptable in English. It is not necessary to reword such constructions.

In compound forms, the adverb naturally falls between the auxiliary and the main verb (has already left, will likely succeed). Placing the adverb before the auxiliary is journalese and should be avoided.


Spokesperson is an acceptable gender-neutral substitute for spokesman or spokeswoman. But do not use it exclusively as a substitute for spokeswoman


Ambrose Bierce objected to sustain injuries, apparently following a prejudice of Henry Alford's The Queen's English of 1864, Jan Freeman tells us, pointing out that the sense of sustain for suffer or undergo, dates in English from about 1400. The prohibition is another journalistic superstition, overripe for discarding.


Ms. Freeman also points out that AP's dislike of entitled meaning titled, as a book, is unfounded. Entitled  was the original sense (Chaucer again), and there is no good reason to object to it. Bryan Garner concurs. This entry insists on a pointless, time-wasting distinction.

Of course, often the simplest thing is to avoid the word altogether, since what is a title is usually obvious: Bryan Garner's concurrence can be found in "Garner's Modern American Usage." (When, when is AP going to adopt italics like the rest of publishing?)


Use of this sentence adverb to mean "it is hoped" has been a peevers' shibboleth since the 1960s.

But Bryan Garner concludes, with some regret, that the once-despised usage is commonplace: "The battle is now over. Hopefully is now a part of AmE, and it has all but lost its traditional meaning."

Actually, Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage points out, in a page and a half, that there was nothing the matter with it in the first place: "It was censured ... because it was new, and it is not very new any more." MWDEU also observes, "There has been considerable abatement in the fuss ... but it seems safe to predict that there will be some who continue to revile it well into the next century."

Well, we're now well into the next century. How about joining the rest of us, AP?

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