Hey, Associated Press Stylebook, some friendly advice: "No. 1"

November 02, 2013|By John McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

Nothing inspires in me a greater depth of fellow feeling with the editors of the Associated Press Stylebook than the garage.

Our garage is larger than usual, and in the corporeal correlative of Parkinson's Law,* junk expands to fill the available space. Furniture that is damaged or outdated but too good to throw away. Items the children declined to take with them when they moved out. Parts for objects the function of which can no longer be determined. Notes for my abandoned dissertation.

My wife periodically insists that the garage needs to be cleared out, and I see two possibilities: No. 1, lightning will strike the damn thing and burn it down; No. 2, I will die in the house and my heirs and assigns will be stuck with the task.

So I understand, that even though the editors of the AP Stylebook take an annual romp through the pages to enter updates, there is little possibility that all the accumulated bric-a-brac of generations therein will get a proper scrutiny.

That brings us today to the entry No.: "Use as the abbreviation for number in conjunction with a figure or indicate position or rank: No. 1 man, No. 3 choice.

Now I can see that one would want to use the abbreviation in a list: "No. 1 choice, No. 2 choice, No. 3 choice," etc. But for the life of me I cannot see why the style should be preferred in a single passing reference, such as "my number-one priority," introducing an altogether unnecessary abbreviation.

It is not that I chafed at it particularly during the years under authority on the desk when I was compelled to follow that style, but I must say that when I became a tinpot despot myself, I savored the mingled flavors of anarchy and autocracy as I abandoned the usage.

So I ask you now, editor to editor, what good does the No. entry do? Why was it ever put there in the first place? Why is it still there?

And also, don't you have some other stuff in there that it's time to put out on the curb?

*Cyril Northcote Parkinson's dictum that "work expands to fill the time available for its completion."

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