The Associated Press Stylebook team announced a new gender-neutral language entry, an older adult(s) entry, and several other stylebook changes on May 1 as part of the ACES: The Society for Editing’s online conference.
The “What’s New in the AP Stylebook” session lacked some of the drama that normally occurs at the AP session at ACES national conferences, and not because of the changes announced. There was no room full of people or audible group groans or cheers as changes were announced, although a group of 1,000 editors gathered virtually to hear about style changes.
One big change for the AP Stylebook is a reduction in the print publication schedule. The 2020 AP Stylebook coming out this year will be sold through 2022, although updates to the online AP Stylebook will continue on the current schedule.
“Over the last several years, we have seen sales of the spiral-bound AP Stylebook declining while subscriptions to AP Stylebook Online have grown,” said Colleen Newvine, product manager for the AP Stylebook, in an email interview before the online session. “So, although many of our fans have a strong emotional connection to the print Stylebook — and I love the feeling of holding mine, too — AP Stylebook Online has become our flagship product.”
However, customers who buy the spiral-bound book through apstylebook.com won’t have to wait two years to see the changes. The AP plans to provide those customers with update emails.
“It’s sort of a hybrid product,” Newvine said. “You won’t get the online-only features of AP Stylebook Online, so for example you can’t submit a question on Ask the Editor, but you can stay informed about what’s new in AP style.
“Since the majority of our book customers don’t buy a book every year, we felt we could continue to serve them well with less frequent publication.”
Newvine said the AP had been doing every-year publication of the stylebook since the early 1990s.
Lead stylebook editor Paula Froke said the gender-neutral language entry “aims to treat people equally and is inclusive of people whose gender identity is not strictly male or female.”
The entry said writers and editors should “balance common sense, respect for the language, and an understanding that gender-neutral or gender-inclusive language is evolving and in some cases is challenging to achieve.”
The entry cites examples like using “search” instead of “manhunt” or “door attendant” instead of “doorman.” But it also cautions against tortured constructions like “snowperson” or “freshperson.”
The new older adult(s), older person/people entry started with discussions between the stylebook team and the American Geriatrics Society. The society had worked on research that found many people associate the terms “elderly” or “senior citizen” with negative stereotypes.
Froke said in an email interview that one problem is everyone is older than someone else.
“One concern immediately comes to mind: the terms ‘older people’ or ‘older adults’ are imprecise, whereas the terms ‘senior citizen’ and ‘elderly,’ while also a bit imprecise, are generally understood,” Froke said.
“‘Older people’ could be those in their 30s, in the context of a story about college students. Or people in their 40s, in the context of a story about millennials,
“But the term is being used increasingly even without guidance from the AP Stylebook. And indeed, elderly and senior citizen are also vague,” Froke said.
“This is why we stress the need for specifics.”
Several of the new entries announced May 1, and others announced earlier in the year, like coronavirus terms, show a trend toward topical sections in the stylebook.
“We very much have been moving toward more topical entries,” Froke said. “In many of these, we look to give overall coverage guidance and raise points to consider rather than simply giving a style point or definition.”
She cited examples from the past few years, like entries for race-related coverage, immigration, addiction, drugs, suicide, gender and sexuality, and misinformation/fact checks/fake news.
Changes this year included expanding previous advice on the use of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct to a topic entry on sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct.
“We developed that harassment/misconduct entry two years ago in response to current events. A request from a subscriber — not related to the harassment/misconduct entry — drew our attention to the fact that we have never had much on sexual assault, sexual abuse, rape, etc.,” Froke said. “So this year, we developed guidance on those issues.
“We considered making the new guidance a separate entry. But we decided that it made most sense to combine it with the existing sexual harassment/misconduct entry.”
The entry advises to proceed with care in using any of those terms and not just repeat terms used by sources.
The stylebook says to “pay close attention to legal definitions, which vary by jurisdiction, and the wording of criminal charges or convictions.”
Another change is in the climate change entry. Previously the stylebook had an entry titled global warming, with a climate change entry that referred back to the global warming entry.
The new entry says: “climate change is the more accurate scientific term to describe the various effects of increasing levels of greenhouse gases on the world because it includes extreme weather; storms; and changes in rainfall patterns, ocean acidification and sea level. Global warming, the increase of average temperature around the world, is one aspect of climate change.”
Other changes are in the religious references/deities entry (concerning pronouns), the mistress entry (a recommendation not to use the word), new guidance in the disabilities and addiction and alcoholic entries, and a change in the weapons > semi-automatic rifle, assault rifle, assault weapon entry.
The homeless entry now says, “Avoid the dehumanizing collective noun the homeless, instead using constructions like homeless people, people without housing or people without homes.” It also includes other advice on using the term.
“We got one request (from a city official) via our online suggestions link and another (from a leader of a high school journalism conference) via Stylebook Online’s Ask the Editor feature,” Froke said of the homeless entry. “The team discussed, and agreed that guidance was needed.”
In fact, the changes announced show how individuals can influence the stylebook. Froke noted Twitter feedback on several changes, including entries for midnight, Mason jar and preheat.
“It’s not so much the level of feedback as it is the points that are made and the logic behind those points,” Froke said.
“One good point or question from one person can be enough to spur a discussion among Stylebook team members. For instance, the request for more guidance on sexual assault and sexual abuse came from just one person. And there are many other examples of single-person requests that lead to change.”
But feedback alone doesn’t drive the stylebook team, Froke said.
“We’ve probably gotten more complaints about the ‘more than/over’ change several years ago — pushback that continues today — than on anything else (except the Oxford comma, of course). But our guidance stands,” Froke said. Froke notes that Twitter users have strong reactions about many things. “So, no, we’re never really surprised at anything on Twitter.”