The New AP Stylebook Will Not End the Oxford Comma Debate

The venerable style guide you know and love, the AP Stylebook, is having a big birthday. It's turning 60, and in honor of the occasion its approximately 500 pages of copy guidelines has had a revision. If you're a serial comma lover, it's not the one you're hoping for.

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The venerable style guide you know and love, or maybe love to complain about, the AP Stylebook, is having a big birthday. It's turning 60, and in honor of the occasion the approximately 500-page copy manual used by news organizations, classrooms, and corporations around the country has had a revision. With the 2013 print edition, readers will get more than 90 new or updated entries, as well as broadened instructions regarding social media. The spiral-bound version is available on the AP Stylebook website now; the paperback will be released this summer.

Inside, copy aficionados will find "more than a dozen of the new entries are in the sections on food (such as Benedictine and Grand Marnier, madeleine and upside-down cake) and fashion (chichi and froufrou)," according to the AP's release on the revised edition. Numerals entries have been updated and consolidated. There's a section on weapons to better explain different types — "assault rifle and assault weapon" for instance — and a new entry on mental illness that "gives guidelines on when references are relevant, particularly in stories involving violent crime, and how they should be reported." As the AP announced several weeks ago, the term illegal immigrant is now forbidden, "except in direct quotations essential to a story." (The word illegal is reserved for actions, not people.) And the social media portion of the book includes terms and definitions ranging from flash mob to Google Hangout, plus more "information on how to secure, authenticate, attribute and reference user-generated content for text, photo captions and video scripts." Along with all that, there will be the aforementioned new and revised entries in this version that consolidates updates since the 2012 volume.

Earlier on Wednesday AP Stylebook editors hosted a Twitter chat on AP Style. What with all the new updates and changes, it's worth noting that the more things change, the more they stay the same. One of the main points of contention on Twitter was over the Oxford comma, because of course the Oxford, or serial, comma has been a point of contention since the need to specify the serial comma. As Mignon Fogarty explained in a Grammar Girl piece in 2011, "The first style book to recommend using the serial comma came out in 1905 in England, and Strunk’s first edition of The Elements of Style, which came out a few years later in America, in 1918, also recommended the serial comma." The Chicago Manual of Style and The University of Oxford Styleguide still recommend it. Yet the AP Styleguide leaves the serial comma out, unless deemed absolutely necessary. As explained in today's AP Style Chat:

There are, of course, dissenters.

But it's only reasonable. After all, we are passionate about copy and our particular preferences for style. Never forget the Onion's bit, "4 Copy Editors Killed In Ongoing AP Style, Chicago Manual Gang Violence." It's funny because it's not exactly true. We are passionate about copy.

Still, I'd like to think the AP folks would agree that there's a certain beauty in consistency, even if it's simply the consistency of disagreement. Happy 60th, AP Styleguide!

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