Saturday, July 17, 2004

AP changes style on ages

AP's newest stylebook changes the style on ages -- now it's 1 through 9 for people and animals and one through nine for inanimate things. So it's a 3-year-old girl but a three-year-old law.

Norm Goldstein, the stylebook's editor, says it's an attempt to clarify things. I dissent. I think it just muddies things up and will make even more needless work for copy desks. The explanation (from Norm and folks like Bill Walsh) is that inanimate objects don't really have ages or, as Bill writes, "It doesn't seem right to extend this privilege to inanimate objects or to months as opposed to years."

Balderdash. I like a little more substance to my style decisions. And if you're going to be intellectually honest and follow that logic, you shouldn't make possessives either (you can't say the law's effect, for instance) because the law really doesn't deserve that "respect," seeing as it's not a person or animal. So it's the earnings of General Motors and the effect of the law -- and that's just silliness, despite what some of the stricter grammarians would say.

I'm proposing creation of a Style Simplification Movement. I think the APME and ASNE should get together and start scrutinizing all the variations we have inflicted on ourselves.

In a recent column, I suggested it's time to look at the widely ignored rules on another, none and over for instance.

Here's my prediction: Reporters will get this latest change more wrong than right, meaning yet more things for the copy desk to mindlessly change, when the efforts should go into more substantial problems.

I'm writing more on this for my August column, which should be at the CSJ column site in a couple of weeks.


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