Sunday, February 12, 2012

AP Style: Workforce as one word

Not sure how this one got by me, but tucked into the changes in AP's 2011 Stylebook is one I've urged for years -- workforce as one word instead of work force, a form that newsrooms and others increasingly were ignoring anyhow.

So thanks for the change, AP. The world is once again safe for democracy.

Now let's work on the equally arcane and increasingly ignored under way in favor of underway (which AP as of this writing still reserves for the nautical sense: "an underway flotilla").



At 2/12/12, 12:51 PM, Blogger Jan said...

Back when I was an editor enforcing the distinction, "underway" (solid) was reserved for adjectival use, not for "nautical use." Is this really the current AP rule?

At 2/12/12, 2:16 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

We sort of have two things intertwined here, and it depends on whether you think the word has transitioned from adverb to adjective in almost all uses.

I think the transition has largely passed what Garner would call stage 3 of his language change index so that people are using it as a predicate adjective more commonly than as an adverb.

So yes, if you wrote an "underway" project, I'd agree that's OK. The AP actually writes "when used as an adjective before a noun in a nautical sense." It probably chose that phrasing because we usually don't write "an underway project" but that "the project is under way."

But when the term is used after a linking verb, usually a form of "to be," we clearly are seeing a shift in orthography - probably at a three or even a four on what Garner calls his language change index - but also in a sense that it is a predicate adjective rather than an adverb.

To see this, just look at this search on the Washington Post. You'll find it to be more and more common elsewhere as well.

These things are not uncommon. We are seeing "all right" morph to "alright" and "for a while" to "for awhile."

I'm not ready to go with those quite yet, but I think the change in "under way" is, well, well underway.

At 6/27/13, 4:07 PM, Anonymous Ann Santos said...

Just because a term or word is in wide use doesn't mean it's right!

At 6/27/13, 4:30 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Well, Ann, it actually does mean it's right in many ways. If that weren't the case, you'd still be writing and talking in "olde" English.

Language evolves. It always has. The only reason you notice it now is that the digital age has vastly speeded up the process.

The entire science, such as it is, of writing dictionaries is based on that very principle of usage and how language changes.


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