Hey, AP Stylebook, I'll give you another chance

September 18, 2014|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

Let no one say that the editors of the Associated Press Stylebook are a pack of mossbacks. 

A couple of years ago, they (admittedly somewhat tardily) acknowledged that hopefully is no more objectionable as a sentence adverb than sadly or mercifully.

Then they abandoned the bogus over/more than distinction, to the wailing and rending of garments by copy editors so inured to the tribal dialect journalese that they no longer recognize standard English when they see it. 

So I continue to entertain hope for the stylebook. Now, at the time of year the editors begin to meditate on revisions, I, freely, generously, and open-handedly, repeat some suggestions for the improvement of the book. 

The verbs entry is troublesome in that it covertly gives aid and comfort to the writers who misguidedly object to split infinitives and what journalists imagine to be "split verbs." All it says explicitly is to "avoid awkward constructions," a piece of advice that might well be included in many entries. But it casts a shadow over the split infinitive, and it suggest that the imagined error of inserting an adverb between the auxiliary and main verb is a genuine solecism. 

It is long past time for the AP Stylebook to acknowledge that ordinary split infinitives ("to always insist") and adverbs between the auxiliary and main verb ("have always insisted") are perfectly idiomatic standard English. 

The who, whom entry could also stand a little work.* The entry opens, "Who is the pronoun used for references to human beings and to animals with a name," which is perfectly unobjectionable. But it leaves room for the superstition that who is the only option in referring to people, that that is illegitimate.

Rather, that may be used to indicate a person whose identity is unknown ("the man that robbed the bank") or a group (Isaiah 9:2's "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light"). Garner's Modern American Usage says flatly, "Is it permissible to say people that, or must one say people who? The answer is that people that has always been good English, and it's a silly fetish to insist that who is the only relative pronoun that can refer to humans." 

Should the editors come to see a great light, a little revision of these two entries could enlighten many more. 

But should they continue to walk in darkness, I will be back next year. 

*That "split verb" didn't bother you all that much, did it?


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