AP Never Changes, Never Progresses

by Charmaine on September 12, 2016

OK, I know this is a first-world problem. But I’m still livid, after having (once again) submitted a question to the Associated Press (AP) Ask the Editor column and (once again) received an entirely unhelpful answer.

My boss and I got into a quagmire about whether or not the term “advanced driver assistance systems” should be ADAS or ADASs when made into an initialism. Did you know that an initialism is an acronym that you can’t pronounce, but an acronym is pronounceable?

Anyway, my boss said that because “systems” is always plural, ADAS was correct. I replied that I thought that was precisely when you would apply the “s” to the initialism/acronym/whatever, because the last word in a term that gets made into what I’m now just gonna call a series of letters is plural. The fact that it’s always plural doesn’t mean that the rule to apply “s” doesn’t jive.

I have such a terrible track record with submitting questions to Ask the Editor that I only do it once every couple of years. Given my track record, I am terrified about how to phrase my question. I read Ask the Editor questions several times a day looking for style guidance as I edit, but I’ve never gone so far as to analyze which ones are more likely to get a freaking definitive answer. I have a job after all. That’s why I haven’t blogged since 2012.

I should not have to panic when asking the editor of the style guide that my Fortune 100 clients use a valid question, but there you go. Problem No. 1 (haha not problem #1, I know my AP).

In this case, I decided that asking the question only generally would likely not get me a clear answer. I know that AP discourages alphabet soup, so I thought if I actually asked what to do with ADAS specifically, he might not lecture me on what the rule is for spelling everything out.

But at the same time, I really wanted clarification on the rule overall so that I could go back to my boss and tell her one way or the other. I knew it would come up with other terms.

So I decided to split the difference. This is what I asked:

Q. Would the initialism of advanced driver assistance systems be ADAS or ADASs? Broadly, does the fact that the term will always be a plural (“systems”) affect the application of an “s” to the initialism?

And this is the answer:

A. AP stories spell out the term on first reference, then use brand names or variations of self-driving on second reference instead of the abbreviation.

There are so many things wrong with this answer. First, I don’t care what “AP stories” do, especially when the percentage of answers in the Ask the Editor column that advise questioners to do whatever the hell they want is rising. Don’t believe me? Exhibit A:

Q. Would an article written for an online publication, such as a blog entry, fit within the AP definition of a composition title? from Newport News, Va. on Mar 18, 2015

A. Render blog titles as spelled by the blogger. If you are the blogger, you may decide how to present the title.

“You may decide”? Are you kidding me? If it were up to me to decide, why would I be asking you?

Second, thank you, but I do not need a refresher on the rule for acronyms/initialisms. If I know your site intimately enough to figure out how to submit a question to Ask the Editor, I think I can find my way around the site enough to know the rule.

Third, advanced driver assistance systems is a thing. Like, it’s not a brand name. A quick look at the first page of Google results would have told you that. Using “self-driving” as a “variation” of “advanced driver assistance systems” isn’t gonna cut it.

I am not expecting Mr. Minthorn or whoever answered my question today to know the technology behind this particular term intimately … which is why I then asked for clarification on the overall rule, which the answer completely ignores.

When Mr. Minthorn receives questions about terms with which he is unfamiliar, he always points that out in his answer, as if his individual worldview matters somehow. It comes across as defensive. In my case, I don’t think he’s familiar with advanced driver assistance systems, but instead of pausing to think about how to interpret existing AP rules (EXISTING … I am not asking for new rules, nor are most questioners) in real-world contexts, what I got instead is a third alternative that I didn’t ask for and isn’t quite related to my question at all.

It is not just me. This happens over and over. Just look through the Ask the Editor questions. You will see many, many instances of questioners having to submit their questions again … with language ranging from “you didn’t answer my question” to “perhaps I should clarify.” It never gets any clearer, and the editor never apologizes. The closest he gets is “Thanks, we’ll correct the discrepancy.”

Mr. Minthorn, I am begging you. Answer the freaking question. Take the exiting AP rule to which the question applies and figure out how to interpret it. If you don’t understand the question, ask the person to submit another question, clarifying.

We are your customers. My company pays for at least 100 licenses to the AP Stylebook. If you did not want to answer style questions related to high-tech language or corporate communications, you should have refused to sell the licenses to my company. But you didn’t, and you’re not helping. You’re really, really not helping.

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