AP Style and Chicago Updates from #ACES2017

Mignon Fogarty
7-minute read
Episode #562

AP Style Updates

Next, let’s talk a bit about the updates to the AP Stylebook. There seemed to be a lot more updates than there were to Chicago, or it could be that the AP is just a little farther along in the release process because these updates are on the AP website now and go into effect immediately. 

I already did a long article on the website about the updates, and I’m talking with ragan.com about doing an updated AP Stylebook web course, but I’ll still go over some of the major or more interesting changes today in the podcast.

Technology-Related Updates

The editors presented a few additions related to new or newish technology. There’s  a new entry for autonomous vehicles for example, which can also be called self-driving cars. But don’t call them “driverless” unless there isn’t a human backup driver. And reserve the terms autonomous and self-driving for cars or trucks that can monitor the road and drive for an entire trip without human help. For vehicles that can do some but not all of the driving, such as some Tesla models, use the terms semi-autonomous or partially self-driving.

Another new entry is for the term cyberattack, which is one word and the editors noted is an often overused word. Throughout the presentation, it was interesting to hear the editors talk about how they consulted with experts in different fields for certain entries, and cyberattack was one of those entries. The definition of cyberattack is a computer operation carried out over a device or network that causes physical damage or significant and wide-spread disruption, and the presenters said that the cybersecurity experts felt strongly about the "physical damage or significant and wide-spread disruption" part—that it isn’t a cyberattack unless it meets at least one of those criteria. For example, someone who just messes with a company’s homepage is an online vandal or cybercriminal, but if someone wipes an entire data center full of computers bringing down half the internet, that person is properly described as a cyberattacker. 

Esports is another new entry, and interestingly, at least to me, I had never heard the term before. But the morning before the AP presentation, my husband was telling me about a fascinating article about how big the esports industry is and how some colleges are giving scholarships to gamers who participate in esports competitions. And then esports also showed up as a new entry in the Stylebook, which defines it as competitive multiplayer video gaming. Again, they consulted with people in the esports industry before deciding to style the word without a hyphen.

The final technology-related entry I’ll talk about today is the virtual reality, augmented reality entry, and the Stylebook treats these two terms differently because the editors believe people are more familiar with the concept of virtual reality than augmented reality. Therefore, it’s OK to use VR to abbreviate virtual reality on the second reference, but not OK to abbreviate augmented reality as AR. People are less likely to know what that means, so for now, you should continue to spell it out. 

General Updates

Next are a few general updates to existing entries.

For courtesy titles such as Mr. and Mrs, the AP now says not to use courtesy titles except in direct quotations. If you need to distinguish between people who use the same last name, such as married couples or brothers and sisters, they recommend using the first and last name in your text.

The spelling of flier/flyer got an update, and I’ve always found this to be a confusing topic because the AP didn’t match a lot of other sources, but now they do. Yay. It’s now more clear that if it’s a handbill, you spell it flyer. Frequent flyer is also spelled with a Y, which the AP says is a change it made after surveying airline industry websites. So now, pretty much the only time you need to use the flier spelling is in the idiom take a flier, which means “to take a big risk.”

Finally, we can hardly talk about Stylebook updates without someone bringing up the serial comma (or Oxford comma), right? The AP Stylebook still does not recommend the comma before the final and in a simple series such as red, white, and blue, but the new entry does clarify that there are many instances where the serial comma is needed for clarity, and when it is, AP writers should use it. This was always the rule, but they felt like a lot of people weren’t getting it, so they rewrote the entry to try to make it more clear. 

Grammar Girl TED talk.


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.