Wednesday, June 24, 2009

C'mon, AP Stylebook, fix it

That nagging little Jiminy Cricket voice of conscience in my head was asking the other day, “John, why can’t you help the AP instead of bashing the AP? Do you always have to be so critical?”

All right, all right. The current edition of the stylebook retains the asinine “no split verbs” bogus rule, but that need not be perpetual. To save the editors trouble, I’ve drafted some language they can consider for next year’s edition:

verbs The abbreviation v. is used in this book to identify the spelling of verb forms of words frequently misspelled.
SPLIT FORMS: The belief that it is an error to “split” infinitive forms of a verb (to leave, to help, etc.) or compound forms (had left, are found out, etc.) is unfounded and contrary to idiomatic English syntax. The Star Trek formula to boldly go is perfectly acceptable English. Do not resort to awkward constructions to avoid this imagined error.
Awkward: The candidate always has released the names of contributors.
Preferred: The candidate has always released the names of contributors.

And, for good measure, they can have this one:

none It means either “not one” or “not any.” In the former sense, it takes a singular verb, in the latter sense a plural. Both of these sentences are acceptable: Of the dozen entries, none was rejected by the judges. None of the entries were rejected by the judges.
If you cannot determine which nuance of meaning the writer intended, let the writer’s words stand.

Now for your part, dear readers:

The editors of the stylebook are Darrell Christian, Sally Jacobsen, and David Minthorn. You can write to them to suggest that they adopt these sensible revisions:

The Associated Press
450 W. 33rd Street
New York, NY 10001

And if you have subscribed electronically to the stylebook, you can go to “Ask the Editor” and inquire why they have retained the bogus “split-verb” rule and when they plan to abandon it. (We old-fashioned book-buying types aren’t privileged to ask snotty questions of the editors online.)

If you have been giddy with excitement about receiving the 2009 edition, as some have proclaimed themselves to be on Twitter,* imagine your feverish ecstasy when these changes appear in the 2010 edition.

*I am not making this up.


  1. I'm mailing it now. Thanks!

  2. Why do so many people crave rules? (Especially the wrong ones.) Let's think for ourselves a little more.

    Yes, consistency is important. And, yes, the AP Stylebook contains a wealth of useful information. But many better guides for syntax and grammar exist.

    [In my youth, I kicked a teletype machine as it printed that year's new AP rules. So, this view of the stylebook isn't new.]

  3. Professor, please do who and whom as well.


  4. If you're in doubt, just use who. That is slowly becoming the norm in everything but the most formal contexts. Misusing whom is where people get into trouble.

  5. Just whom gets into trouble that way?

    Oh, and my e-mail to the editors will soon be on its way.

  6. I have not subscribed, but for the benefit of all future newspaper readers, could someone who has subscribed please just tell the AP editors to just use the clear and helpful guidelines that have been on pages 396 and 397 of "Words Into Type" (1964 edition). It's a bit much for me to type here in as a comment, but it's perfect.

  7. Oh, and if they can't find a copy of that edition of that wonderful book (i.e., if the topic is covered on different pages in the newer edition), they should look for it under "Adverbs within verbs" and "Split infinitives," or in the index under "Adverbial placement." I don't know if the newer edition is as good, but the 1964 one I have is the best and most thorough and clear book on grammar and rules that I know of.

  8. My 2007 AP stylebook has the following to say:

    "Occasionally, however, a split is not awkward and is necessary to convey the meaning:
    He wanted to really help his mother. How has your health been? The budget was tentatively approved."

    -p. 256

    Don't see where the problem is.