A challenge to the AP Stylebook editors

The Baltimore Sun

A couple of days ago, in my ho-hum response to the Associated Press Stylebook’s deciding to lowercase internet, I remarked: I’ll display some excitement if the Associated Press Stylebook should ever get around to discarding some of the hoary bric-a-brac they treasure as if it were Sevres porcelain.

A Canadian editor (who does not use AP style) commented on Facebook: “Now I want to hear about some of the sacred cows AP is holding onto.”

Always happy to oblige.

But first, in all fairness, the AP Stylebook is not entirely benighted. Its editors experience occasional flashes of realization that the way people actually use the language is what determines usage. So they have abandoned their old distinction that U.S. should be used only as an adjective, not a noun. They discarded the over/more than fetish and allow hopefully in the “it is hoped” sense. They recognize that none can be used as a plural and between can apply to more than two parties. They do not encourage you to shift only around in a sentence, and they ignore the artificial since/because and due to/because of distinctions.

However.

Item: The editors persist in the split-verb superstition, a journalistic extension of the split-infinitive shibboleth. That is, the AP Stylebook thinks that it is not right to insert an adverb between the auxiliary and main verb, though we have been doing it in English since Chaucer was in grammar school. We have always done it this way. You can hardly find the bogus rule observed outside of newspaper journalism. We can surely benefit from abandoning non-idiomatic English. (Got it?)

Item: AP thinks that you should never use loan as a verb, calling the lend/loan distinction “preferred usage.” In fact, the American Heritage Dictionary comments in a usage note that loan “has seen vigorous use in American English right up to today and must be considered standard” in describing physical transactions.

Item: AP maintains the convince/persuade distinction. Jeremy Butterfield comments in his edition of Fowler’s Modern English Usage that convince in the sense of “to persuade” has been in common use for more than sixty years and is “a classic example of a change in construction that is acceptable to the many and repugnant to the few.” And a dwindling few at that.

Item: Data, the AP Stylebook advises, should only be used as a plural, though I notice that many AP writers appear to be unaware of this. In fact, data as a singular has become increasingly commonplace since the 1970s. Bryan Garner calls it a “skunked term,” because it gets up the noses of purists, but the American Heritage usage panel of 2005 found it unexceptionable by a substantial margin. (Like AP, I would prefer to keep media as a plural, but that battle is lost, too.)

Item: AP also insists that two objects must be in motion to collide, that a moving object cannot collide with a stationary object. Fowler’s remarks, “There is no basis for such a belief.” Webster’s New World College Dictionary, the AP’s standard reference, gives no support to it, American Heritage does not even trouble to address this particular fetish, and Garner’s Modern English Usage does not find that it merits mention.

Item: That, we are assured by AP, can only refer “to inanimate objects and to animals without a name,” despite the centuries-old standard practice in English to use that in referring to an unknown person or a group of people. Let me trot out once again the Authorized Version’s “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light” and inquire whether the editors of the Associated Press Stylebook would care to improve upon it.

These should do for starters.

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