Posted tagged ‘Associated Press’

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.

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The Washington Post changes “mike,” “e-mail” to “mic,” “email”

December 8, 2015

1-12433511551KPgDays ago in an op-edWashington Post copyeditor Bill Walsh announced some changes in the paper’s stylebook. Long after the Associated Press and even the New York Times, the Post has changed the following:
—“e-mail” to “email”
—“Web site” to “website”
—“Wal-Mart” to “Walmart”
—the short form of “microphone” from “mike” to “mic”

“Why did we wait so long to make the changes?” he wrote. “As the keeper, more or less, of The Post’s style manual, I’ll tell you why: because the new spellings were wrong.”

If all copyeditors were laid end to end, would they ever reach the same conclusion? At the same time? (Oh, wait, that’s economists.) Walmart changed the way it referred to its stores—if not its official corporate name—in 2008. AP changed “Web site” and “e-mail” in 2010 and 2011, respectively. The Times did so in 2013. Walsh decided to propose his changes only once the Post was about to move to a new building. Better late than never, I guess.

Let’s take these one at a time.

Email. We don’t say “tshirt” or “xray,” Walsh says, so why “email”? But he caved to pressure both internal and external because “yesterday’s vigorously defended norm can be today’s laughingstock.” Wrote Grammar Girl in 2011, “I asked the AP Stylebook editors why they made the change, and they said most of their writers already turn in articles with the ‘email’ spelling, and copy editors found ‘e-mail’ increasingly difficult to police. They emphasized that they don’t consider themselves to be on the leading edge of language change; that instead, they ‘bow to common usage.’ ”

My take: Don’t be fooled by the fact that tech users are early adopters; the world is not aligned on this sort of thing. AP also uses “e-book,” “e-commerce,” and “e-business”; a well-funded, global legal association uses “e-commerce” and “e-discovery.” To me, it’s about readability; do readers trip over the word? Digital readers were much quicker to give up (on) the hyphen.

Website. “I don’t know why I made such a big deal about it all these years,” said Walsh.

My take: AP still caps “Web” as a proper noun while lowercasing “website,” “webcam,” “webmaster,” etc. (We’ll see how long that lasts.) I’m fine with making it one word but appreciate the cap for clarity.

Walmart. The company is Wal-Mart Stores Inc.; it changed its logo in 2008. A logo is not a word, but readers complained. Walsh found a loophole that he said let him make the change: “The Post no longer routinely uses Inc., Corp., Co. and the like in company names. So we could keep Wal-Mart Stores Inc. on the rare occasion when we’d spell out the name, while otherwise referring to the company and its stores by the name everyone knows.” (Huh? What does that have to do with Walmart vs. Wal-Mart?)

My take: Just pay your workers decently, whatever you call yourself.

Mic. Walsh spent six paragraphs trying to justify his decision here. No wonder. “As a purist, I’m still not happy about mic. As a pragmatist, I feel I have to accept it,” he said.

Pro “mike”: “A bicycle is a bike, not a bic. Bic, as in the pens, rhymes with Mick.” Plus, “mic” began as an abbreviation on recording devices; it was never meant to be pronounced or used as a word. Pro “mic”: “Enough people made the error that mic gradually crept into the language.”

My take: I completely agree with everything Walsh says above, though I hate that the Post and other guides are giving in on this. As he explained well, “mic is an aberration.” And call me Irish(-American), but I’m not getting over the bad historical connections here. He’s also correct, though, that “some now-common phrases—mic drop, hot mic—would look downright anachronistic with the old spelling.” Which … is how language changes.

As an afterthought(!), Walsh stopped short of changing the rule that a person must be called “he” or “she”—but the Post now also allows the use of “they” “as a last resort.” Say what?! This one Walsh actually advocated as “the only sensible solution to English’s lack of a gender-neutral third-person singular personal pronoun.” “He” is sexist, “she” is patronizing, “he or she” is awkward, and alternating and “s/he” are silly. “What finally pushed me from acceptance to action on gender-neutral pronouns,” he wrote, “was the increasing visibility of gender-neutral people.” Plus, he noted, sometimes you just don’t know the right gender to use.

Walsh claims to be surprised that people have protested this change more than the others. Seriously? “I suspect that the singular they will go largely unnoticed even by those who oppose it on principle,” he wrote. “We’ve used it before, if inadvertently, and I’ve never heard a complaint.”

My ultimate take: Of all the changes mentioned here, the fact that no one has brought a complaint about a newspaper of record breaking a basic rule of grammar is the saddest one of all.

Copyright 2015 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.