Big stories of 2020 drive AP Stylebook changes, additions in past year

Big stories of 2020 drive AP Stylebook changes, additions in past year

April 23, 2021 By Gerri Berendzen ACES News

The AP Stylebook session at this year’s ACES conference may have seemed a bit different than in years past—and not just because the entire two-day conference was conducted virtually.

And while the virtual nature of the conference would have hidden any audible gasps, there probably weren’t many anyway. Paula Froke, editor of the AP Stylebook, announced a lot of changes and additions, but nothing along the lines of the “more than and over” type usage changes or dropped hyphenations that really get some editors going.

That’s because the AP Stylebook team was busy over the past 12 months creating new style entries and having big picture discussions mandated by a year jam-packed with big news stories. 

“We’ve tackled a number of basic style points such as hyphenation and specific capitalization questions in the past several years,” Froke said. “We do have more of those fundamentals on our list, but we put most of them on hold this year because of more urgent issues.”

Look at it this way, it may seem like longer but it was less than 15 months ago that the word COVID-19 became part of the lexicon.

“Our focus on guidance related to huge and ongoing news forced us to delay dozens of potential updates, revisions or additions in the past year,” Froke said in an email interview. “All editors on the Stylebook team are deeply involved as editors of daily news coverage; Stylebook work is just a small slice of people’s overall jobs.” 

“There simply hasn’t been enough time to work on most potential topics that aren’t directly related to current news events.”

So one part of the April 22 session was on words, usages, and guidance necessitated by the pandemic. For instance, the entry for “long-hauler.” 

“Sometimes used to describe a person or group of people who do not fully recover from COVID-19 and have lingering symptoms, including fatigue, shortness of breath, “brain fog,” and trouble sleeping. Use sparingly and describe the long-term health problem if relevant.”

And “superspreader,” both of which are from the most recent Coronavirus Topical Guide, which is updated often and will be updated again as time goes on, Froke said.

Froke also shared selected terms from the Pandemic Economy Topical Guide released the day before the ACES conference. She said the terms aren’t in the main AP Stylebook yet, but will be added later. 

For instance, one entry gives guidance on the difference between “furlough” and “layoff.”

“Furlough versus layoff (n.), lay off (v.)
When workers are furloughed, they are let go by an employer but are considered on a leave of absence and sometimes remain eligible for benefits such as health insurance. Employees who are laid off are considered permanently let go. Both categories of workers are eligible for unemployment benefits. Hyphenate as a modifier: laid-off workers.”

Froke also noted several new Asian American-related entries, including on the initialism “AAPI,” which stands for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and a change to the stylebook’s entry for “Asian,” which adds the sentence: “Avoid using Asian as shorthand for Asian American when possible.”

Froke also discussed changes coming to the entry on disabilities. The overview she presented was that writers should “use care and precision when writing about disabilities and people with disabilities, considering the impact of specific words and the preferences of the people you are writing about.”

“We are replacing the existing entry with this expanded guidance, and deleting the shortlist of some individual terms,” she said.

The changes are still a work in progress, Froke said, and not published yet. But she showed attendees the working version of the entry on dyslexia as an example.

One part of the guidance in the new section will be to avoid writing that implies ableism, saying it is “a concept similar to racism, sexism, and ageism in that it includes stereotypes, generalizations, and demeaning views and language.”

In the session, Froke also noted one of the bigger changes the AP made in the past year, which is almost a year old—the entries for Black and Indigenous, which now call for capitalization.

The entry for “Black, white” now starts: “Use the capitalized term Black as an adjective in a racial, ethnic, or cultural sense: Black people, Black culture, Black literature, Black studies, Black colleges.”

“The reaction to our decision to capitalize Black and Indigenous has been very positive, though certainly not universally positive,” Froke said, adding “nothing ever is.”

In an interview before the ACES session, Froke said that the necessary work on issues related to the news of 2020 has meant things like an update of the numbers section had to be placed on the backburner. That section has been on the stylebook team’s radar, and the AP held a session at the 2019 ACES conference where it sought ideas on the numbers entry.

“We had no time in the past year to get anywhere near the numbers guidance,” Froke said. “When last we dealt with it, all efforts at revisions turned out to be nearly as problematic as the existing entry.”

She said that 2019 ACES session yield lots of comments, but no consensus. “If any ACES member wants to try again to solve this conundrum, we’d welcome the help!” Froke added.

It was a busy, but also productive year when it comes to style guidance, Froke said.

“We’re proud of the work we’ve done on style and deeper issues related to coverage of race-related matters, the pandemic, politics, unrest, and all the related news of the past year,” she said. “We look forward to doing even more on those topics in the coming year, while hopefully also having time to deal with our backlog of other important topics and questions.”

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