Posted tagged ‘AP Stylebook’

Should “internet” be lowercased? How about “web”?

May 31, 2016

Tomorrow, it’s official: The Internet becomes a common noun.

At least according to the AP Stylebook. Back in April, the Associated Press announced several coming changes; lowercasing “internet” and “web” made the biggest splash.

“The changes reflect a growing trend toward lowercasing both words, which have become generic terms,” AP standards editor Thomas Kent told Poynter.

Both tech (Wired) and nontech (The New Republic) editors have advocated for the change, though with varying degrees of logic. Here’s what Indiana University professor Susan Herring wrote in Wired last year:

“According to Bob Wyman, a Google tech staffer and long-time Net expert, the ‘I’ should be capitalized to make clear the difference in meaning between the Internet (the global network that evolved out of ARPANET, the early Pentagon network), and any generic internet, or computer network connecting a number of smaller networks. … Yet … most people (other than techies) are not aware of any internets other than the Internet—that distinction is no longer relevant in ordinary usage. And for many younger folks who have grown up with the technology, the internet itself is ordinary—just another communication medium, like the telephone, television, and radio.”

(I’m picturing a poster on some computer science lab’s wall that reads, “There is no internet but the Internet, and Steve Jobs is his prophet.” Please tell me such a poster exists.)

As for “web,” Washington Post copyeditor Bill Walsh correctly notes that the word has other, generic meanings, so capping it in this case helps show readers which meaning is meant.

Another argument for the lowercase treatment of either word is that capital letters are speed bumps in reading, not to mention typing (the shift key being sooo difficult to use). Seriously? Ask any copyeditor: Reading comprehension goes up with caps, punctuation, serif type, and other well-regulated aids to understanding. In one of his monthly chats, Walsh wrote, “The argument that there is a general trend away from capitalization would be more persuasive if I didn’t see the same people who champion ‘internet’ and ‘web’ writing about being ‘Sophomores who are majoring in History and love Sushi.’ ”

Hmm. As an editor, I will enforce AP style when clients request it. Off the clock, though, this will have to be—like the serial comma—another area in which we agree to disagree.

A change I approve of: AP has gotten more real about child sex trafficking, banning such uses as “child prostitute” and “teenage prostitute” because they imply that the child “is voluntarily trading sex for money,” Kent says, and a child, by definition, can’t consent. A petition signed by more than 150,000 people, sponsored in part by Human Rights Project for Girls, helped make the case.

Others, FYI:

  • Being more careful about “accidents.” Either “accident” or “crash” is “generally acceptable for automobile and other collisions and wrecks,” says AP. “However, when negligence is claimed or proven, avoid accident, which can be read by some as a term exonerating the person responsible. In such cases, use crash, collision or other terms.”
  • Avoiding “mistress”—because “mister” is not the equivalent. Rather, use “companion,” “friend” (really?), or “lover” if applicable. “Whenever possible,” AP’s new entry says, “phrasing that acknowledges both people in the relationship is preferred: ‘The two were romantically (or sexually) involved.’ ”
  • Keeping “spree” positive. No more using “killing spree” and the like. Though that could get subjective. “Spending spree” could arguably be positive, negative, or both, depending on who’s looking at it.
  • Somewhat defining “exponential.” As in, say, “exponential growth”—it now has to mean progressively larger (5 percent this year, 10 percent next, etc.) and not just fast growth.
  • Somewhat defining “alarms” in terms of fire. Because many of us have no idea what a two-alarm fire is, just that presumably a three-alarm fire is worse. No kidding, says Kent: Such terms are “meaningless” without context, so spell out the number of firefighters or amount of equipment used.
  • Making “dash cam” one word. Once again, though, AP goes halfway by keeping “body cam” two words, thus needlessly confusing both copyeditors and readers.

Copyright 2016 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.

We’ve got food style

January 3, 2013

What is a cream puff made of? Why is sukiyaki called “the friendship dish”? What are those towering crepe-like desserts my grandmother used to make? If your recipe calls for a cup of tomato juice, and you’re out of it, what can you do? And a flip is a what?

More than a year ago I wrote a post that could have been called “Why I love the AP Stylebook.” Just as writing has its specialties, so style has its specialties. Writers may concentrate on, say, travel, food, parenting, technology, or essays. For food writers–and, to an extent, wine and travel writers–there’s (The New) Food Lover’s Companion.

Food writers, editors, and fact checkers keep Food Lover’s Companion close at hand. “One of the best reference tools we’ve seen, this is a must for every cook’s kitchen library,” said Bon Appetit. Not being anything close to a food expert, I had FLC open constantly when editing at Washingtonian. It’s still occasionally useful, on and off the job–and just plain interesting.

Who knew that “bard” is a verb? To bard is to tie bacon or fatback around lean meats or fowl so they don’t dry out during roasting. You remove the fat shortly before the meat is done to allow it to brown. Carpetbag steak? Not what I thought it was. It’s steak stuffed with seasoned oysters, then grilled. FLC explains how Peking duck’s skin gets that way (air is pumped between honeyed skin and flesh before drying) and that a “whiskey sour” can also be made with bourbon, gin, rum, and other liquors.

Last year I read with bemusement some early writings of Nora Ephron, who spent much of the 1960s learning to cook elaborate meals. Apparently this was quite a thing among young women of the time–fancy dishes, fancy dinner parties. Flipping through FLC reminded me of the less elaborate dinner parties and holiday meals my parents gave. The definition of “stud,” for instance, brought back an image of learning to poke cloves into a ham (unevenly) and feeling proud of having a task of my own. And “hard sauce.” The other grandparents, Irish who’d long since climbed the lace curtain, served plum pudding with hard sauce every Christmas. The description sent me right back to that heavy, gleaming table under that crystal chandelier, wearing my holiday best, trying not to grimace at the taste but licking the silver anyway because there was no place I’d rather be.

FLC tells us that Italian bread is the same as French bread except for the shape. Au contraire! Have Sharon Tyler Herbst et al. not felt or tasted the difference? The guide also doesn’t take a regional stand on crabcakes, though I guess I can’t blame it for not getting into that food fight. It’s Eurocentric at the expense of other continents. Otherwise, I don’t know enough to take issue with much within.

A cream puff is choux pastry around sweetened whipped cream or custard. Sukiyaki appeals to foreigners, so Japanese call it “the friendship dish.” Those Eastern European stacked “crepes” are palacsintas; they can be savory as well. For tomato juice, swap in half a cup of water and half a cup of tomato sauce. A flip is a cold drink made with liquor or wine mixed with sugar and egg, then shaken or stirred (Mr. Bond?) until frothy. Want it warmed? In colonial days, someone would plunge a red-hot poker into the brew before serving. That would get your attention.

Anyone says a style guide can’t possibly be fun, just tell ’em that one.

Copyright 2013 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.