When I was 8 years old, I thought all the songs on the radio were being performed live. Whitney Houston sure did sing a lot. I assumed the drummers from my older brother’s favorite “alternative rock” bands probably had to brace their arms in slings during commercial breaks, for all the playing they did. That was how musical artists earned the big money — performing several dozen times a day. It had to be exhausting being in the Top 20.
I don’t remember the moment I realized the songs were all recordings, but I do know that knowledge felt like a bit of a letdown. Just because it made more sense didn’t mean I was eager to adjust my perspective.
There’s a lesson in that. People are generally averse to change even if it’s for the sake of a broadened understanding and a more well-rounded view. We sometimes cling to the past, a perspective, and even the nonsensical simply because it’s our normal. And normal is comfortable. But there’s a way to marry the dependable with developments, specifically when it comes to writing.
You may remember our advice on style guide updates. To summarize: Toss out the old and swaddle the new. It’s what any reputable style guide does, including AP, which is used by nearly a gazillion people worldwide. (A “gazillion” is hyperbole, a beefed-up form of exaggeration, and frowned upon by AP because it consists of statements that cannot be supported by facts. This clarification adheres to the most recent AP guidance on misinformation.)
If you’re one of those gazillion, check out this brief list of recent updates straight from the AP horse’s mouth*:
1. COVID-19-related terms. The terms “vaccine” and “vaccination” are both nouns but with different meanings. You receive a vaccine (the product) while you are getting the vaccination (the act). The word “superspreader” was added (a noun or adjective). An “epidemic” relates to a specific population or region, whereas a “pandemic” is an epidemic that has spread to multiple countries or continents. “Global pandemic” is therefore redundant.
2. Holidays. In a word: capitalize. This includes federal holidays. For example: Groundhog Day (i.e., the only day in which we celebrate a rodent doing essentially nothing).
3. Injuries. These can be suffered, sustained or received. We advise against being injured.
4. Disabilities. Only mention these if they’re relevant. Be specific about the type of disability. This applies to birth defects as well. Avoid the term “handicap” for a disability or “handicapped” for a person. Avoid the words “special needs,” “special education,” and “able-bodied” because of their implications. “Wheelchair user” is a better descriptor than “confined to a wheelchair” or “wheelchair-bound.”
5. Race-related terms. Only mention race if it’s relevant. Avoid generalizations; be specific whenever possible. Avoid vague terms like “anti-Asian sentiment” and “racially charged/motivated/tinged.” The term “Black” (capitalized) is used as a noun or adjective. “Asian American” no longer retains a hyphen. The term “anti-Semitism” has been updated to “antisemitism.” “Indigenous” is now capitalized. “Pacific Islanders” are defined as “the Indigenous people of the Pacific Islands, including but not limited to Hawaii, Guam and Samoa.
6. Climate change vs. global warming. These words are often used interchangeably. But global warming, the increase of average worldwide temperature, is an aspect of climate change. Climate change refers to the combined effects of increasing levels of greenhouse gases, which lead to more extreme weather and changes in weather patterns and sea level, for example.
7. The “post-” prefix. Some root words using this prefix utilize a hyphen, such as post-bellum, post-election, post-convention, and post-mortem. Others do not, such as postdate, postnuptial, postdoctoral, postscript, postgame, postwar, and postgraduate. If you can use all of those words in a single sentence, please submit it to us with our gratitude. Check the Webster’s New World College Dictionary and hyphenate any “post-” words that aren’t listed.
8. Temperatures. Except for zero, use figures. Don’t use a minus sign for negative temperatures. For example: “By golly, it was 10 below zero yesterday and right now it’s minus 15.” Temperatures technically get higher or lower, but AP says “warmer” and “colder” are acceptable.
Please note, we’ve stuck with the more concrete aspects of these updated guidelines for the sake of brevity. This is also not a comprehensive list of updates; we highlighted the topics and terms that come up most often in our clients’ writing. For more context and clarity, along with some stellar examples, check out the AP Stylebook website.
*AP does not have a horse (that we know of), and we are certain it doesn’t have a mouth.