A Golden Anniversary for ‘AP Stylebook’

By: Shawn Moynihan

It’s the first book we reach for when we have style questions, and the last word. And now, it’s celebrating a birthday of sorts: July marks the 50th anniversary of the release of the first official Associated Press Stylebook.

In June 1953, E&P reported, “Newspaper Style throughout the country will be affected by a new 100-page, 12,000 word style book to be issued by the Associated Press around June 15.” The AP Style Book, as it was then called — note the change to “Stylebook” in later editions — was touted as “the most definitive and inclusive work of the kind ever undertaken by a group of newspapers.”

The 1953 version replaced the 16-page AP Style Book and The AP Copy Book, known as the Red Book, and filled with all-cap printer forms. Both were issued in 1951 and were not considered consistent, leaving too many loose ends and loopholes.

Norm Goldstein, editor of the stylebook since 1989, told E&P that although the 1953 version was the first of its kind, no anniversary celebration is planned to commemorate its release. As far as AP is concerned, he said, it is the 1977 version that is regarded as the benchmark for future editions.

In 1977, Goldstein explained, the stylebook received a complete overhaul. Editors added many new entries and put all of them into alphabetical order, which in turn made consulting the book quicker and easier.

With the advent of the Internet, the stylebook is now available by subscription, online at www.apbookstore.com. It is updated periodically (“Whenever it’s warranted,” Goldstein said). Editors at AP, as well as faculty at journalism schools and editors at newspapers around the world, make suggestions on style changes as they arise.

Here are some excerpts from E&P‘s first news story by Ray Erwin, hailing the arrival of the “AP Style Book” in our June 6, 1953 issue:

* “While local copy, in many cases, will continue to conform to local usage, even that department of the news report is expected to reflect trends clearly outlined in the new book.”

* “The Religious section invades almost virgin territory by offering complete information concerning the names of churches and correct official titles of churchmen. The Sports section covers a field generally overlooked in style books with data on every sport from water polo to skiing.”

* “The new style trend is definitely toward simplification. Attorney General and similar titles will not be hyphenated. Weekend, citywide, nationwide and statewide will be written minus hyphens. (Webster approves both ways.) This is regarded as the biggest change in style under the new dictum.”

* “Capitalization-the extreme ‘Up East’ and the extreme ‘Down West’ styles-presented the gravest problem to Mr. [Gus] Winkler and the APME advisory group. In Iowa and westward of that state the definite trend is to lower case letters, and eastward of Iowa the general trend traditionally has been toward capitalization. Legend has it that western printers in the early days used capitals sparingly because the type had to be transported by wagon over long distances from eastern type foundries. The capital letters were higher in cost and heavier to haul. One early western publisher is supposed to have ordered that only the name of the newspaper and God be capitalized — “and if you run out of caps, just use them for the name of the paper.”

* “We tried to make The AP Style Book complete enough to answer nearly everything but not so long as to be disregarded and unread,” said Mr. Winkler, “but that is a fine line of demarcation to attempt to establish.”

* “The comma, in most grammars, is used before the conjunctions ‘and’ and ‘or,’ but the new style will drop it.”

* “We will not water whisky with an ‘e’ and henceforth it will be cigarette, as spelled on the packs,” said Mr. Winkler.

* “Correspondence shows that it will have almost universal acceptance,” he added. “Many newspapers will make local copy conform although some will use, for instance, the Mr. prefix to a local name while the AP does not.”

* “This book can save a lot of newspapers a lot of money,” observed Mr. Winkler, ruefully glancing over his data-littered desk and wearily rubbing his tired eyes. “They can supplement it for local peculiarities and local treatment.”

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