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Going my way

By John E. McIntyre

The Baltimore Sun

11:00 PM EDT, April 9, 2013

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I hate to seem disloyal, but it doesn't take much to touch off a kerfuffle among copy editors. And now a new one is underway. 

Yes, underway, the word the Associated Press Stylebook, in all its pomp and majesty declared last week to be a single word in all senses, in saecula saeculorum, amen, amen.

Before last week, many copy editors maintained a fleeting sense of superiority over mere wordmongers by distinguishing the two-word nautical under way, from the common, garden variety, landlubber underway. Ships get underway; projects get underway

Unfortunately for that gossamer distinction, English, like German, possesses a wordsrunningtogethertendency, and, over time, even the nautical sense has fused the two words into one. David Minthorn and Darrell Christian, editors of the AP Stylebook, acknowledged as much last week at the national conference of the American Copy Editors Society in St. Louis: "That's what's in the dictionary." 

Indeed, underway has been listed as a single word in both senses in Webster's New World College Dictionary, the dictionary on which AP bases its style, for years. Likewise in the American Heritage Dictionary and a couple of others I troubled to look into. It appears that underway has been a single word in both senses for some time now, and the AP is belatedly catching up. 

But "you're breakin' my heart," one editor wrote in response. Others commented online that it was time to drop the worthless AP Stylebook. I've heard reports of fulminations in newsrooms, including my own. At least, when I looked out the hotel window in St. Louis, there was no sign of angry villagers with pitchforks and torches.

Really, beloved copy desk colleagues, let me encourage you: Get a life.