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AP Stylebook Announces Historic Merriam-Webster Collaboration at ACES 2024 San Diego

AP Stylebook Announces Historic Merriam-Webster Collaboration at ACES 2024 San Diego

April 5, 2024 By Gerri Berendzen ACES News

A switch to a new primary dictionary, an entry change on “climate change, climate crisis” and new guidance on using the terms “obesity, obese, overweight” were among the AP Stylebook changes shared with ACES: The Society for Editing members Friday at ACES 2024: San Diego, the organization’s annual conference in San Diego. 

AP Stylebook lead editor Paula Froke announced changes and style updates coming in the 2024-2026 print edition to a packed audience of about 500 conference attenders. The changes will be published in May, and some changes have already been made online.

Associated Press has been announcing its annual style guide updates at the ACES annual national conferences since 2010.

Merriam-Webster

Froke said that the stylebook is making a change in its primary dictionary, now turning to Merriam-Webster as its first source. It has been several decades since the stylebook has changed dictionaries, she noted. 

“Merriam-Webster is updated far more frequently to reflect new terms, evolving usage and other developments,” Froke said. “We have an excellent working relationship with Peter Sokolowski, the editor at large for Merriam-Webster. Overall, we find Merriam-Webster more aligned with the AP Stylebook’s needs and approach.”

“We’re also collaborating to include bonus content in the paid Merriam-Webster subscription, so you’ll get some extras,” Froke said. “This is my favorite announcement ever.”

Sokolowski also spoke briefly, calling the collaboration "the joining together of two great traditions." 

AP Stylebook product manager Colleen Newvine said it’s difficult to tell for sure how long the previous primary dictionary, Webster’s New World College Dictionary, has changed names and publishers. Newvine said she knows AP’s dictionary recommendation hadn’t changed at least since the 1990s, and maybe the 1950s. 

The full changeover will happen when the 57th print edition of the AP Stylebook is published on May 29.

Certain changes to AP style will now follow. For instance, use of prefixes and suffixes will now be based largely on Merriam-Webster’s hyphen preferences.

“Climate change, climate crisis”

One of the more important new entries in the stylebook is the “Climate change, climate crisis” entry, which expands use of the term climate crisis, Froke said. A statement from AP’s news director for climate and the environment, Peter Prengaman, explained the decision:

“First, the world is experiencing constant extreme weather events. Heat records, multi-decade droughts, major flooding, extended wildfire seasons and powerful storms are happening with increased frequency.”

“Second, the level of climate-induced disturbances, that is the extreme weather events and impacts, is worse than what climate scientists expected for this level of warming (about 1.1 degrees Celsius increase in average global temperature since the early 1800s). That bodes badly for the years ahead, as temperatures continue to rise.

“Finally, greenhouse gas emissions, the cause of all of this, are going up each year. That is despite 30 years of climate negotiations, major investments in green energies worldwide and increasing consciousness of, and worry about, climate change.”

In sum, Prengaman noted, “we have a major problem, which is getting worse faster than predicted, and our best efforts to confront it are falling short. That amounts to a crisis situation.”

“Obesity, obese, overweight”

Another entry change Froke pointed to is the entry for “Obesity, obese, overweight.” In part, the entry says: “People with obesity, people of higher weights and people who prefer the term fat use diverse terms – including those and others – in reference to themselves. 

“Use care and precision, considering the impact of specific words and the terms used by the people you are writing about. When possible, ask people how they want to be described.”

The new stylebook guidance says the word obese shouldn’t be used as a modifier if possible.

When asked what spurred the change, Froke said: “It had already been on our list to address, and then we got specific requests for guidance in the past year because weight-loss drugs were in the news.”

She said the editors stopped short of saying “never” use obese as a modifier because there are some constructions where it might be needed, including in headlines where there are space limitations. 

“But most of the time, we want to not use the term as a modifier,” Froke said.

“Unique”

The stylebook is changing its guidance on the word “unique.”

The revised entry now says: “The word can mean one of a kind, unparalleled, having no equal, etc.; or highly unusual, extraordinary, rare, etc. If used in the sense of one of a kind, don’t use modifiers such as very, rather, etc.”

Froke said she expects some pushback.

“We’re still getting pushback on ‘more than’ versus ‘over, a change made years ago to conform with dictionary guidance,” she said. “So I imagine there will be some who dislike our allowance of an expanded use of unique, which also conforms with dictionary guidance.”

Froke noted that they haven’t tackled any significant changes to the numerals entry in the stylebook, although they have added an expanded explanation on the overall approach to using numbers.

“Never say never!” Froke said. “But the complexities have presented quite a challenge, as was clear in the 90-minute ACES session a few years ago devoted solely to trying to solve this. A packed room of very smart editors couldn’t come to anything remotely resembling a consensus. 

“So for the time being, we believe that our users are best served by leaving the guidance largely as it has been for years.”

Additional changes

Additional changes include:

Froke and her team of editors carefully consider all feedback they get from any source, including members of the public, other journalists, experts and leading organizations, and advocacy groups when making changes and additions, she said.

“We consider each argument and point of view on its merits, always with an eye to developing the most accurate and fair guidance. Sometimes one single suggestion can lead to a change, either minor or major. The pieces of feedback aren’t votes, but rather ideas for us to consider.”


Longtime ACES member Gerri Berendzen is a lecturer at the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. She spent 30 years working on copy desks at news organizations before that and today specializes in teaching editing, writing, and information management. She is currently a member of the ACES Communications and Publications Committee


ACES: The Society for Editing

ACES: The Society for Editing is the nation’s leading organization of editing professionals, educators, and students. Founded in 1997 by copy editors, ACES is dedicated to improving the quality of the written word and the working lives of editors. It sets standards of excellence and gives a voice to editors in journalism, government, business, publishing, and beyond through top-notch training, networking, and career opportunities. ACES hosts an annual in-person conference and, since 2022, an annual virtual conference. ACES Academy hosts monthly webinars. ACES also offers certificates in editing, which it co-hosts with The Poynter Institute, a global leader in journalism. 

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