Pled is now acceptable and other changes to the stylebook in 2020
We previously discussed the importance of the Associated Press Stylebook when we covered 2019’s changes.
While 2020’s update did not contain too many dramatic, debate-inducing changes, there are still a few interesting adjustments. And if you’re wondering just how much AP Stylebook changes could trigger intense discussions, look into how 2014’s more than/over shift was received on Twitter. One retweeter called it “blasphemy” while another said AP was dead to them.
Let’s take a look at what’s new in 2020.
The influential guide now notes that “Black” should be capitalised when used in the context of race and culture, a move that solidifies a change many publications, including The New York Times, had already embraced.
There was a brief period when the AP had not announced whether “white” should also be capitalised, but it has now noted that “white” stays in lowercase. For example, “the rallies were attended by both Black and white protestors.”
In a memo to staff, John Daniszewski, AP’s Vice President for standards said: “We agree that white people’s skin color plays into systemic inequalities and injustices, and we want our journalism to robustly explore these problems. But capitalizing the term white, as is done by white supremacists, risks subtly conveying legitimacy to such beliefs.”
Use person-first language
A few changes this year are related to using what is known as person-first language. That is, using descriptions over labels. For example, referring to an individual as “a senior” is identity-first language as it is not specific to the person in question, and each reader’s conception of what “a senior” means is not universal.
The stylebook has offered both “older adult” and “older person” as alternatives. Although, it should be noted that both these terms can be imprecise. Reference to an older person in a story about teenagers could mean an adult over 25, for example.
The basic idea behind using person-first language is to avoid stereotyping and potentially offending people.
Another change in this vein was the addition of a “homeless” entry. Particularly at issue is the commonly used noun “the homeless.” The stylebook notes: “Avoid the dehumanizing collective noun the homeless, instead using constructions like homeless people, people without housing or people without homes.”
The need for specificity was also highlighted in the updated sexual crimes section. The changes here were quite significant and writers and editors working with these topics should take a look at all the adjustments.
Overall though, the general advice is to ensure the language used is both specific and accurate as many of the terms in question carry exact legal meanings.
Pled is now okay
One change that did ruffle a few feathers was the go-ahead to use “pled” as the past tense of the verb “to plead.” For example, “the accused pled guilty.” According to the AP, many writers indicated that they wanted to use “pled” so the stylebook was updated to reflect this.
Copy editors and writers should note that the Chicago Manual of Style still recommends “pleaded.”
Midnight is out
It garnered less negative attention than pled, but the stylebook’s change to midnight will probably affect more people. Now, the guide recommends avoiding the word “midnight” as there’s an element of confusion over whether that means the end of the day or the beginning of the next one.
Instead, get the maximum amount of clarity by writing the time out. So, 11:40 pm Wednesday or 12:05 am Thursday. And if it’s 12:00 am, use the time.
The plus symbol (+) is in
Last year we saw the acceptance of “%” and this year it is the plus symbol in the spotlight. Now, “+” is acceptable when it is pronounced and part of a company, event, or branding. For example, “Disney+” not “Disney-plus.”
Other constructions should continue to use the full word, so it’s still an “A-plus on the exam” and “500-plus dollars.”
Use gender-neutral terms
Whenever possible, use a gender-neutral term over a gendered option. For example, “search” over “manhunt.” The entry noted that editors and writers should “balance common sense, respect for the language, and an understanding that gender-neutral or gender-inclusive language is evolving and in some cases is challenging to achieve.”
The stylebook does caution against “tortured” constructions such as “snowperson.”
Preheat is allowed
Previous advice cautioned against “preheat” on the basis of redundancy. For example, “heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius” achieves the exact same thing as “preheat the oven.” But 2020’s adjustment embraces the term, largely because it is so commonly used and understood. Not to mention the number of kitchen appliances with a dedicated “preheat” button.
Prior to making this change, the AP solicited feedback on social media and there was an outpouring of support for “preheat.” The people have spoken!
That concludes our round-up of 2020’s most interesting AP changes. In total, there were more than 200 adjustments, to delve deeper into these, pick up a digital copy of the stylebook here.