Yesterday, when a story came across the desk with spokesperson in it and I let it go through, I checked the Associated Press Stylebook, and, sure enough, the fossil prohibition against the word is still in the 2011 edition. The editors might change their tune for the 2012 edition, but I doubt it. They cling lovingly to unexamined preferences.
I tweeted some advice, "The Associated Press Stylebook continues its fuddy-duddy prohibition of 'spokesperson.' Suggest you ignore it. #ignoreAP," which I would like to expand on here.
Spokesperson has a 1972 citation from the Guardian as the earliest mention in the Oxford English Dictionary. There's also a 1976 citation from The New Yorker, and pray recall that that would be the old New Yorker, under Mr. Shawn's discriminating eye. The word has been around for forty years and can hardly be thought to be a neologism.
A raw Google search turns up more than 37,000,000 hits for spokesperson, which is dwarfed by the 97,500,000 for spokesman, but by no means inconsiderable. (Spokeswoman gets 5,400,000 hits.)
A look at the Corpus of Contemporary American English discovers spokesperson in common use at National Public Radio, CNN, Cosmopolitan, Newsweek, Good Housekeeping, Esquire, The Christian Century, The Christian Science Monitor, and The American Scholar, among many others. Hardly fringe publications.
Who, apart from the AP Stylebook, objects to spokesperson, is not clear, since all evidence points to its widespread use. There may be some elderly parties with their empurpled wattles trembling over its use, as with Ms. and gay for homosexual, but those people don't call the tune any longer.
There was an objection from a couple of readers when I posted the tweet on Facebook, to the effect that spokesperson is only used for women. I did a check look around and posted this:
"Spokesperson" is what Nationwide calls that grinning twit in its commercials. The New York Observer calls Stu Loeser Mayor Bloomberg’s spokesperson. Victor Rivas Rivers is spokesperson for the National Network to End Domestic Violence. William Shatner was spokesperson for Priceline. Charlie Kimball is spokesperson for Novo Nordisk's NovoLog Flexpen. I don't dispute that the term is frequently used for women, but it's not entirely the case that it is used exclusively for women.
Now if it is the case that you are using spokesman for men and spokesperson for women, that is naughty. Stop it.
And if spokesperson still strikes you as an irritating neologism, forty years later, you can take the suggestion a reader made, citing Hank Glamann, and use representative, another gender-neutral term.
Otherwise, just ease up on it, and add spokesperson to that ever-lengthening list of AP Stylebook dicta that you need not heed.
Addendum: Diane Nicholls offers a persuasive graphic from Google Books: http://tinyurl.com/78gfwq2
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