Thursday, November 5, 2009

Omt ndlss vwls

Away back in the 1960s when I was a journalism student, I had to learn the Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual, the little booklet beloved of city and copy desks that dealt with stuff like capitalization, numbers, punctuation, hyphenization, proper terms of address, grammatical rules and other housekeeping tasks without which a newspaper would have looked like the town dump.

I hated it. I never could remember the difference between "that" and "which" and how to mention the Queen on second reference. ("Her Majesty," I think it was. Or not. It's been a long time.)

But after wrestling with the stylebook for months, I knew where to look things up quickly while batting out a news story or editing one.

The journalism students I taught hated it, too, but eventually came to see its value as a kind of Army field manual for the news infantry, a statement of principles and standards. When they got jobs they were ready to go out and report or stay in and edit, perhaps after mastering their new employer's stylebook, almost always based on the AP version but reflecting local conditions and idiosyncrasies.

Sometimes a newspaper's stylebook difference reflected nothing but an individual's whims. The Chicago Sun-Times, my former employer, had an editor-in-chief from Australia, one of Rupert Murdoch's minions, who forbade the word "gay" in reference to same-sex orientation long after it had passed into common usage. "Call them homosexuals, for that's what they are!" he thundered.

We also had a copy desk chief, a staunch atheist, who changed the manual to stipulate that the deity be called "god," in lower case. His argument was that god was a figment of the human imagination, not a real entity, so did not deserve capitalization. Neither was tom sawyer, I said, or huckleberry finn, but they were proper names, just as God was. The chief was adamant. After he either quit or was fired (I can't remember which), the rule was immediately thrown out.

The style manual is so ingrained in the American journalist's hide that when some enterprising newsies started batting around imaginary AP Stylebook rules on Twitter in the last month or so, there was such a huge explosion of interest that the perpetrators are close to landing a book contract for their "Fake AP Stylebook." The story is here.

Some examples:

While it's tempting to call them "baristi" because of the Italian roots, the plural of "barista" is "journalism majors."

Do not change weight of gorilla in phrase, “800-lb gorilla in the room.” Correct weight is 800 lbs. DO NOT CHANGE GORILLA'S WEIGHT!

Dr Pepper doesn't have a period in it. An easy way to remember this is "Doctors are dudes and dudes don't get periods."

Breasts should not be referred to as "jugs" unless you need it to rhyme with something else in the article. See also: cans, sweater puppies.

Always capitalize Satan. You don't want to get dead goats from those people.

It almost makes me want to un-retire. (Or is that unretire? Where did I put that Stylebook?)

With thanks to Jim Romenesko for the heads-up.

No comments:

Post a Comment