Monday, June 29, 2009

AP Stylebook celebrates nerdity

There are two stereotypes about copy editors.

The first is that they are a group of burnt-out hacks and office failures who were shipped to internal exile on the copy desk when their incompetence became intolerable everywhere else. (And it takes a goodly load of incompetence to become intolerable at an American newspaper.)

The second, which is hardly any kinder, is that copy editors are a bunch of nerds and dweebs and dorks, obsessive-compulsives preoccupied with minute distinctions invisible to normal human beings. It’s just as well that they work at nights, because no one would invite them to a party.

I’ve spent a fair chunk of my professional career — at two daily newspapers, in workshops around the country, in two terms as president of the American Copy Editors Society — struggling to establish that my colleagues are well-educated, well-informed professional editors whose abilities demand that they be taken seriously.

And now this on Twitter from @APStylebook:

APStylebook Tweet your favorite AP style rule, and why, by Friday. We will give a subscription to Stylebook Online to the best.

Golly. Where to start?

oasis, oases

Delaware Abbreviate Del. In datelines or stories. Postal code: DE
Only Rhode Island is smaller in area. See state names.

rock ’n’ roll But Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

hold up (v.) holdup (n. and adj.)

Entering this competition is like running for mayor of Dorkopolis.

Nothing personal, AP Stylebook, but I have a dear friend and valued colleague who chortles vigorously every time I bash you. You want me to leave you alone, you can drop the idiotic split verb entry.


  1. Is that near Porkopolis (aka Cincinnati, a word that already deserves an entry in the Dorkopolitan Dictionary)?

  2. Some comments from Facebook

    John Newland: Naturally, I prefer the Washington Post Stylebook now, but I used to love the old AP Stylebook. A different color each year. It was exciting. When I was a reporter, I really liked AP's "The Word," too. Ahhhh ... dorkdom!

    Anne Neville: My favorite, unforgettable line: "People do not die in mishaps."

    Mike Pope: I see that confusion about phrasal verbs is not limited to the technical world ("Login here", "Click here to sign-up").

  3. Guilty on both editing accusations. But my personal favorite insult was issued in a huge corporate forum by an engineer who was head of client education and training (shouted): "I don't care if my people can't write. You're the JANITOR! I mean . . . editor. Clean it up!" I will never stop cleaning it up. Getting such challenging, odd sentences from people with such weirdly varied styles makes me wake up in the morning, though.

    AP: I like liquid pints with the formula for approximate metric conversion (so incomprehensible and trivial, but I know I could use one now) and pocket vetoes ("precise requirements vary"). Also, the entire sports guidelines section cracks me up because I am a completely non-athletic nerd who used to have to proof and paste up the daily agate. It didn't matter if we ran "sports shorts" or "sports briefs," it was all just underwear to me.

    Finally: Planets. See earth and heavenly bodies.

  4. "Flutist" instead of "flautist"
    That is my favorite.

  5. Mr. Obama has no idea at all when to use the articles "a" and "an". He mixes them up ALL the time. He just is ignorant of the concept. Somewhere in his education they neglected that detail. Just listen to him and you'll see.

  6. Kriss Kringle. That one makes me jolly.