Thursday, June 15, 2006

AP style guidelines that aren't in your book

The Associated Press has an "Ask the Editor" section of its online stylebook. (I've been reading right over the link forever; luckily, Doug Fisher pointed it out.)

People have asked about taps, the bugle call, about 28,000 times. Here are some style notes from Norm Goldstein that aren't already in your stylebook:

How does the AP abbreviate microphone? Do you go to an open mic night or an open mike night? Was the musician's guitar mic'ed or miked?

AP uses "mike" as the abbreviated form of microphone.

What is the official AP style for September 11, 2001? How should it be written on first and second reference? What's AP's stance on the use of 9/11 or 9-11?
"Sept. 11" is AP's preferred term to use in describing the terrorist attacks in the United States Sept. 11, 2001. If the abbreviated form is used, it is 9/11. [This is mentioned in the slash entry.]

What about Web log (two words) or weblog (one) when explaining what a blog is?
AP uses Web log as two words in describing a blog.

How do you write "24x7" meaning 24 hours a day, seven days a week?
AP uses the slash when referring to 24/7. [This is mentioned in the slash entry.]

Does AP have a preferred style for the plural of euro currency? I notice the entry on euro is a bit vague, using instead "euro bank notes" and other constructions. But if I'm simply stating a price, should it be "10 euro" or "10 euros"?
AP prefers "euros," with the "s," for the plural form.

When a person has a hyphenated last name, such as smith-smithson, should both be used on second reference or just the latter?
Hyphenated last names should always be used as a unit.

This answer is so ridiculous that I hesitate to include it here, but oh well:
Do you capitalize a Web address when it starts a sentence? I thought the Stylebook addressed this but I cannot find it.
For Web addresses, AP follows the spelling and capitalization of the Web site owner (whether at the start of a sentence or elsewhere). (See the Internet entry in the AP Stylebook.)

Would the number in "3 percentage points" be written as a numeral or written out? The confusion is coming from whether it would follow the AP rule for percents (write out all numerals) or if it would follow the "under 10" rule since the noun is points not a percent.
We use the numerals for percentage points (as with percents).

Is the use of "some" in place of "about" considered proper use of the word? (As in "some 5,000 people attended.")
Yes, "some" is acceptable when used in the sense of a certain unspecified number.

What is the standard for the use of African American, Black, or black as a designation for the group of dark-skinned individuals of African descent who have American citizenship?
AP prefers the use of "black" for those of the Negroid or black race and uses "African-American" only in quotations or the names of organizations or if individuals describe themselves as such.

Another ruling I disagree with:
There's a good deal of confusion and no apparent widespread agreement among some fine newspapers about reporting blood alcohol content. Is it proper to call a BAC figure as a percentage? The AP at times refers to an individual's blood alcohol content as 0.24 percent, for example, and at other times treats the figure without the "percent.''
AP generally uses the blood content level figure without percent, as it appears to be familiar to readers (in context). However, both forms are acceptable.

Recently I've been noticing radio news using the term "so-called" in place of "known as". Isn't the term "so-called" a journalistic taboo because of it's perjorative nature? I was always taught that "so-called" meant suspect, or "in-name only".
The terms ae not synonymous and should not be used interchangeably. "So-called" implies a question or inaccuracy (as in "so-called immortals of the theater"), while "known as" indicates an accurate, but alternative name.


At 1:57 PM, June 15, 2006, Blogger WordzGuy said...

"This answer is so ridiculous that I hesitate to include it here, but oh well:"

I on the other hand am astonished that a copy editor would presume to "correct" something that is established by someone else as a mark. Copy editors do not "own" capitalization and spelling. My bank, for instance, is HomeStreet Bank; I do not, because I "own" copy editing, presume to address them as Home Street Bank in correspondence. Editors are not obliged to like brands and marks, but they are obliged to respect them.

And clearly whoever feels like that they can make free with names of Web sites has never worked on a Unix system, where and are entirely different sites, since Unix (et al) treat all identifiers as case sensitive. Changing names arbitrarily "because of the rules" is the kind of thing that can give editors a bad reputation with writers (and programmers).

At 5:06 PM, June 15, 2006, Blogger Nicole said...

Sentences start with capital letters. If a Web address for some reason needs to start a sentence and needs to be lowercase, the sentence needs to be recast.

Also, proper nouns start with capital letters. It's a tool that lets English readers quickly identify them as such. Companies can render their logos however they want, and many choose an all-lowercase style. But it's not newspapers' job to reproduce their logos (consider Toys R Us and the starred-instead-of-apostrophed Macy's). We can leave the marketing to them.

I have no problem squishing words together. HomeStreet Bank can be HomeStreet Bank all it wants. It just can't be homestreet bank.

And, yes, we can have free reign over capitalization in domain names. Even in Unix, and are the same. Nothing in the top-level domain (everything to the left of the .com) is case-sensitive. It's the file names (everything to the right of the .com) that are case-sensitive. So is not the same as

Even though you can change the capitalization, I'm not necessarily saying you should. Write the domain names in the way that makes the most sense. (For a long address, go ahead and add those caps; it's a service to your readers.)

But recognize that a Web site's name is not always synonymous with its address. This blog is A Capital Idea, but its address is The name needs to be capitalized; the address does not. That goes the same for, whose address is

At 8:29 PM, June 15, 2006, Blogger WordzGuy said...

>It's the file names (everything to the right of the .com) that are case-sensitive. So is not the same as

That's correct -- domains aren't resolved by the server, they just get TO the server; my example was bad. As you note site/index.html and site/Index.html -- an example more at what I intended -- are two different entities.

Your world is clearly different from mine -- we would NEVER change the case of a name without the approval of someone in a position to determine if the change affects the meaning, no matter what rules we think are being violated.

I also would not dismiss AP opinions as "ridiculous." I might think they're wrong, but then I just disagree with them and cleave to our own style guide.

At 7:27 PM, June 17, 2006, Blogger Nicole said...

Our copy-editing worlds probably are different. Newspaper copy editors get to make a lot of decisions that editors in other fields would have to defer.

Bill Walsh put it well in "Lapsing Into a Comma" when he wrote that in the world of marketing, creative capitalization (or lack thereof) is perfectly appropriate. But not for newspapers, magazines and books. He said: "Suddenly writers and editors faced with a name are asking 'Is that capitalized' -- a question that's abut as appropriate as asking a 5-year-old 'Do you want that Coke with or without rum?'"

At 11:14 AM, June 19, 2006, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Capitaliztion is very much a style issue not set in stone, and that's often overlooked. The general situation is that the "closer" the publication is to the organization or institution in question, the more it tends to capitalize references to that institution. Thus, many college publications capitalize College, University and School -- which is a real bear when you're trying to edit a school publication designed to go mainly to journalists, but also will be read by college administrators.

I agree that I think Norm was misguided on that answer.

As for BAC, not using the "percent" probably is more correct, unless you're a toxicologist who uses "percent" to mean something different than us mere mortals. But I do wish we would put the leading zero before the decimal point for easier reading.

Another area of disputed use is "percentage point" to report margin of error. Strictly, it is better reported as "percent," since the margin does not relate to the differences between two percentages but relates back to the base numbers. Kathleen Wickham has a good explanation in "Math Tools for Journalists" (2nd Ed.). Anther good explanation of margin of error is at

At 5:31 AM, July 31, 2006, Blogger Language Lover said...

Just discovered this blog and will be back to read older entries! But in the's "free rein" (not "free reign") and the last point on the use of "so-called" contains THE DREADED "IT'S/ITS" error! Aaaugh!

At 12:38 PM, July 31, 2006, Blogger Nicole said...

I try to keep this site free of errors, but they do creep in. (Anyone who edits his own work has a fool for an editor.)

Glad you're enjoying the site, but you'll just have to forgive the mistakes in comments; they won't be the last you see here. (Now, errors in posts? Those I can fix.)

At 4:32 PM, July 31, 2006, Blogger Language Lover said...

In that case, please please please fix the "it's/its" error...that's the one that makes me scream. I think most editors feel the same way. Typos are excusable, but usage errors are not.

(I wonder why Blogger doesn't allow comment editing? Creates confusing consequences, perhaps?)

At 10:15 PM, July 31, 2006, Blogger Nicole said...

Were it my error, Language Lover, I certainly would. But those are the questions and answers copied straight over from the Ask the Editor page. (There are a host of errors in the other questions, as well.) I treated them all as quotes and didn't clean up a one.

At 8:03 PM, October 03, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I submit Letters to Editor and a small local paper insists AP Style rules over my intellectual property that is not profane, personal or inaccurate.
For instance if I use gov-meant or a capitalize a word for emphasis it remains as such in the largest state newspaper but changed by the tiny local one on the basis of "AP Style". Use of APS for the rest of the paper is fully understood but I think LTEs should reflect the writer, that is their intellectual propertty and expression to be evaluated by readers on its merits since the writer sgns it.
What say you?
Please e mail me this inquiry and response to

At 8:24 PM, November 11, 2010, Blogger Eric said...

I believe that using the Month-Day nomenclature of "Sept. 11" to reference the "September 11" terrorist attacks is the same as only referring to "Christmas" as "Xmas." It's not as if readers are stupid or we're economizing on the use of lead at the linotype. Y nt b cnstnt & jst shrtn evthng?


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