I’m Cheating on AP Style

by Charmaine on April 3, 2009

Let me say that another way: I’m not being entirely faithful to AP style.

If I’m editing for a client who prefers AP style or Chicago style, I’ll be consistent to the point of compulsion. But for my own personal blog posts, I find myself picking and choosing, sometimes respecting authority and sometimes not.

Take Website/Web site/website, for example. AP and Chicago both prefer “Web site.” If I’m reading between the lines correctly, AP seems to be holding fast almost out of spite. Here’s a typical answer from their Ask the Editor (ahem) Web site: “AP uses Web site as two words. We decided early on that Web site was a component or part of the World Wide Web, not a compound noun based on it.”

Chicago’s position, on the other hand, seems a teensy bit more flexible, while making things a bit murky with the whole intended-audience question. If it’s “formal writing,” they say, use “Web site,” and if it’s “informal” or “friendly” writing, “website” is acceptable.

I personally prefer website; I think that by now, people think of it and speak it as a single word. I’m also typically pro-lowercase; wiping out rampant and unnecessary capitalization is one of my causes.

Still, I cannot stop myself from writing Web site in my blog. Perhaps I sympathize with AP’s flag staking here when the troops are so obviously advancing. Yes, they’re being obstinate, but I suppose I admire their principles … except when it comes to the serial comma.

Here’s where I draw the line. (A little curvy line with a dot at the top.)  I simply don’t understand why AP seems to want to grant so much power to the word “and” when just a little comma could clear up any possible ambiguity. I suspect the rule goes back to when printing presses had to set type; column spaces were fixed and the comma fell victim to character cutbacks.

So that’s why I’m not quite 100 percent faithful to AP in my blog — just in case it was keeping you up at night.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

JD (The Engine Room) April 5, 2009 at 10:56 am

As a British sub editor (copy editor), I’m never under pressure to follow AP style or Chicago style, but my personal preference is for ‘website’ – simply because this seems to reflect common usage. Our house style document at work also opts for ‘website’.

I’ve just discovered your blog, by the way; keep up the good work. I’ve also added it to my blogroll. Oh, you do know there is another blog out there with a very similar name to yours – Apostrophe Catastrophes?

Charmaine April 5, 2009 at 11:42 am

Hi JD, and thank you very much for the compliment! Yes, I did find out about Apostrophe Catastrophes — of course (!) only after I’d set up my Web site (or is that website?). I was already a fan of The Blog of Unnecessary Quotation Marks and I am usually a thorough researcher, so I really should’ve checked.

I was quite caught up in finding the perfect name and thrilled that the URL happened to be available (and, unlike grammarandstyle.com, that it did not cost $9,000).

I do think that Apostrophe Catastrophes is a great blog, and I wish her all the best.

Pat Shaughnessy June 11, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Great Post–first time I was able read about proper usage without falling asleep. The background make the language more “real” to me.

Are there any good abbreviated (a bit less rigorous, yet still effective) style guides for blogs you could suggest?


Charmaine June 29, 2009 at 8:39 am

Hi Pat!

Thanks for the compliment. I think it’s important for anyone who writes or edits to understand that the sky won’t fall if they choose to disregard a style rule (note that I said a style rule, not a grammar rule).

As for a style guide, here’s what I suggest: add AP’s Ask the Editor as a bookmark on your browser; when you come across a questionable term, go to the site and do a control F to search for the word you’re looking for (decision maker or decision-maker, for example). You don’t have to subscribe online to use this resource.

For more general grammar questions, stick with Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and for blogging, this isn’t a grammar/style guide but it is short, sweet and basic, and I liked what it had to say.

I hope this helps, and feel free to ask me style questions anytime.

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