The Associated Press Stylebook has been the gold standard for arbitrating style for journalists and for other professional writers for decades. However, that gold may be tarnishing with age — and AP may be recognizing this — as the wire service guide recently made some changes to the time-honored bible for writers.
It all started in March, when AP changed its rule to allow use of “over” to also mean “more than.” Some said the change was overdue, but most traditionalists disagreed that it was more than due.
More recently, AP has decided to spell out states completely (when used with a city, town, village or military base). Previously, the AP had its own unique manner of abbreviating states’ names — unique in that it was a third way — neither completely spelled out nor abbreviated with two capital letters in accordance with U.S. Postal Service practices. Hence, Arizona was known to AP initiates as “Ariz.” Ariz. also might be Frank Zappa’s previously unknown daughter.
Keeping in mind the scarcity of ink and column-inch resources inherent to 20th century print, it would have made the most sense for AP to have followed the lead of the Postal Service in 1963, when that respected national institution took to the two-letter path to make room on the envelope for its new ZIP code. Or, when given a second chance to do so in circa 2014; a time when a tweet stops at 140 characters and a text at 160, every letter literally counts. But that’s OK, AP, go ahead and say to spell them all out. After all, we’ve blindly followed you for this long.
AP generally arbitrates for the sake of consistency, which tends to support clarity. Except when it doesn’t. Hence, when every taxpaying American knows MO from MD, for consistency but not clarity did AP stick to its timeworn abbreviating practice up to now.
So if change is in the air at AP HQ, might I suggest a few additional moves?