Self-driving Cars and Avocado Toast: Welcome to AP Stylebook 2017

angry alien

These are the days that we grammar freaks live for!* The Associated Press Stylebook 2017 is shaking things up with 200 changes, some of them major changes. The internet (lowercase i) is all abuzz as traditional grammarians duke it out against progressive grammarians, using well-written and carefully punctuated insults, while trolls stoke the fire with deliberate misspellings. It’s a maaaaaad house! 

Most of the new rules have to do with popular word usage, changing cultural mores, and the language of new technology. But, really, I think the AP folks toss in a few of these just to mess with us. Like their ruling on avocado toast. According to AP, the term now officially applies to toast that has been spread with smashed avocado. Why? Were editors storming the offices of the Associated Press, demanding clarity on the avocado toast issue? Just saying.

The ruling that seems to be generating the most hubbub is the limited acceptance of they, them, or their as gender-neutral, singular pronouns. AP says that when gender is unknown, or the person prefers not to identify as gender-specific, writers should use the person’s name instead. If a pronoun is unavoidable, use they, them, or their. But, AP warns, take care not to imply that they is more than one person. 🙂

Grammar Girl comments 3-27-2017

Comments from Grammar Girl’s blog at Quick and Dirty Tips.

Other AP Stylebook 2017 rulings include:

  • Clarification on the rule about serial (Oxford) commas. AP does not use them, but clarifies in the 2017 edition that understandability is the bottom line. If the sentence is unclear without a serial comma, use one.
  • We can now say MPH and MPG for miles per hour and miles per gallon in the first use of those terms, rather than defining them first, then abbreviating.
  • Avoid courtesy titles, like Mr., Mrs, Ms. Instead, write out the first and last name. Exceptions are allowed when needed for clarity, or within a direct quotation.
  • Autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles are to be called self-driving or partially self-driving, rather than driverless. Driverless is used only when the vehicle does not have a human driver.
  •  AP wants us to avoid using terms like “opposite sex,” “both sexes,” or “either sex,” so as not to impose roles on anyone. The 2017 Stylebook includes a comprehensive section addressing the issues that come up when writing about sex, gender, and sexual orientation.
  • March Madness is now capitalized when referring to the basketball tournament. That surprised me. I thought that was already a thing.
  • The term esports is all lowercase and not hyphenated, except when it’s part of a proper name. The same with email, but that’s not new. The words e-book, e-commerce, and e-business remain hyphenated.

Remember, not everyone uses AP style, so check with your publisher, and use the style guide they prefer. (See what I did there, with the singular they?)

You can get the AP Stylebook 2017 online now, or pre-order the print edition, scheduled to be released on July 11, 2017.

What do you think of the changes? Did AP get it right this year, or are you hopping mad? And what do you call avocado toast? Let us know in the comments. We’re all in this together.


* Regarding ending a sentence with a preposition: I write this blog (mostly) in accordance with the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS). According to CMOS 5.176:

The traditional caveat of yesteryear against ending sentences with prepositions is, for most writers, an unnecessary and pedantic restriction. As Winston Churchill famously said, “That is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I shall not put.” . . . The “rule” prohibiting terminal prepositions was an ill-founded superstition.



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