2020 AP Stylebook Updates

It was a relatively mild year for AP Stylebook updates, but there were still some interesting changes.

Mignon Fogarty
4-minute read
The Quick And Dirty

Changes this year included updates to Associated Press recommendations for using the words "pled," "preheat," and "midnight."

Every year, the editors of the Associated Press announce changes to the AP Stylebook at the annual meeting for ACES: The Society for Editing. Sadly, the conference didn’t happen this year, but they still held a virtual event, and I was thrilled that the AP presentation was still part of that. I attended the presentation by Paula Froke, the AP Stylebook editor, and Colleen Newvine, the AP Stylebook product manager. I live-tweeted the presentation, and I’ll summarize the main points for you today.

And in case you’re wondering, AP style for “live-tweeted” calls for a hyphen. I had to look that one up.

It was a bit of a quiet year for updates. There were no shockers like we had in some previous years, like when they said it’s now OK to use “more than” to mean “over,” or to write “email” without a hyphen, or to lowercase the word “internet.” 

The print edition of the AP Stylebook will now be updated every two years

Probably the biggest news this year is that they are going to stop producing a new edition of the print book every year. They’ll now print a new version every two years. It makes sense because more and more people are using the online version of the style guide. I usually get both, but I do use the online version much more often than I reach for my print book.

No numerals update this year

The other big piece of news, at least for me, was something that didn’t happen. The editors had been saying they were going to do a complete overhaul of the numerals section of the stylebook in this release, but they didn’t. They said it ended up taking more time than they expected, but they do still plan to do it in the future.

‘Pled’ is now OK

As far as style changes go, the change that will probably affect the most writers is that it is now OK to use “pled” as the past tense of the verb “to plead,” as in “Squiggly pled guilty.”

Paula said they had received a lot of feedback from writers who wanted to use “pled,” so in her words, they took away the “schoolmarmish admonition” not to use “pled.” They had previously called it “colloquial,” but you can now use it if you want to. (I will note, though, that Garner’s Modern English Usage and the Chicago Manual of Style still do recommend “pleaded” over “pled.” As in “Squiggly pleaded guilty.” It’s what I’ll continue to use, but you are now not violating AP style if you choose to use “pled.”)

‘Preheat’ is now OK

The other big change probably won’t affect as many writers, but it did get a lot of attention during the presentation: AP style will now allow writers to use the word “preheat,” as in “preheat the oven.” (I know. I told you it was a slow year.)

In the past, the argument was that “preheat” is redundant. You heat the oven; preheating isn’t any different. They had recommended saying just “Heat the oven to 350” (or whatever temperature you needed). 

But given that ovens often have a preheat button, and recipes tell you to preheat your oven, and it’s just the word that every reader knows, they decided to allow it. They also solicited feedback about the change on Twitter before making it, and people like “preheat.” People wanted “preheat.” Some people even argued that “preheat” could have a slightly different meaning and without it, people might put their food in the oven before the oven is ready. I kind of doubt that, but either way, AP writers can now use the word “preheat” with abandon.

Don’t use ‘midnight’

This next change didn’t seem to jump out to many other people, but I thought was interesting and could come up somewhat regularly: They now recommend not to use the word “midnight.” They found that many people disagree about whether it’s the end of the previous day or the beginning of the next day, and ultimately they decided the word is more confusing than useful. Clarity is the goal, so don’t use “midnight.” Instead, they recommend you be more specific. Write either "11:59 p.m. Thursday" or "12:01 a.m. Friday" (or whatever day and time you mean).

Sexual crimes section update

Specificity also came into play with updates to the entries on sexual crimes. They made significant updates to these sections, and if you write about these topics you should check out all of them, but the stand-out general advice was to be sure you’re being specific and accurate with your language because a lot of the terms have precise legal meanings.

They also made significant updates to the weapons entry, and again, a lot of the advice was about being more specific with your language.

What is the gender-neutral version of ‘fisherman’?

There were also significant updates to the gender-neutral language section, which led to a vigorous discussion in the chat about the gender-neutral version of “fisherman” after Paula said that although they had recommended a lot of new gender-neutral terms, they obviously hadn’t covered everything, and sometimes you just have to use your best judgement. For example, she said, they hadn’t made a recommendation for an alternative to “fisherman.” It was a fun discussion, and in the end, for the most part, people seemed to settle on “fisher.”

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.