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Breaking news on AP style
William Safire in his On Language column in The New York Times approved of the use of generic he, mentioning the mnemonic phrase "the male embraces the female". A reader replied with an example of use of the purportedly gender-neutral he:
— C. Badendyck [sic], New York Times (1985); as quoted by Miller and Swift.:46
From AJR two years ago
AP standards editor Tom Kent said the Associated Press has reevaluated its more conservative
“Society evolves – and news organizations evolve with it,” Kent said. “The AP has evolved. A
decade or two ago, we tried very hard to avoid using the word ‘hell’ if we didn’t have to. I think
we’ve moved beyond that now. And five years from now, lord knows what we’ll be saying.”
But the AP still evaluates profanity on a strict case-by-case basis. “We’re trying to keep pace
with common usage,” Kent said, “while looking at vulgarity as the way we look at everything
else, which is: What is essential to the story?”
For instance, Kent pointed out a Broadway play from 2011 called “The Motherf—— With The
“There was no way to get around that,” he said, so they used five hyphens to convey the title
without fully spelling out the word. For a story about a popular book called “Sh*tty Mom,”
the AP went even further, spelling out the word “shitty” in a quote.
Kent mentioned a few once-forbidden words that have become relatively commonplace.
“I suppose that ass is something that we see more in stories these days than we might’ve
a decade or two ago. When Barack Obama called Kanye West a jackass, we certainly had
no trouble running that,” he said. “Goddamn is something that we would’ve thought 10 times
about a decade ago, but recently we quoted Michael Douglas as saying ‘I don’t smile a lot
in my pictures…I’m always so goddamn grim.’ There wasn’t much debate about that.”
Still, there remain certain lines the AP will not cross. When Vice President Joe Biden dropped
an f-bomb while congratulating President Obama on passing the healthcare bill, the AP
published the quote, but hyphenated out the word. Kent doesn’t expect these standards
to loosen much in the near future, as they are based on reader demands.
“I suppose if the trend among our members or subscribers changes substantially, we will too.
But I don’t think there’s much doubt in any reader’s mind what ‘f’ and some hyphens
and ‘s’ and some hyphens mean, so we’re hardly concealing what the word is when
we use them.”
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From the University of Pittsburgh, Gender and Sexuality
from New York Times earlier this year
“Students proposed ‘they/them’ pronouns, but the faculty vetoed the idea because they said it is grammatically incorrect,” Mr. Williams recalled. “They said, ‘You don’t put a plural pronoun with a single individual.’” A second option, also being used in various trans communities, was “ze” (pronounced ZEE), a riff on the German pronoun “sie,” with “hir” replacing “his/her.”
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