The Associated Press rocked Twitter this week by announcing two major updates to its latest edition of the AP Stylebook, set for publication in May.
The Stylebook, an editors’ bible of sorts, is equally loved and hated by those in the industry (and those on the WE Studio D editing team!), and many question its relevance in an online world. With new words and technologies popping up every day, how can one group dictate the spelling and usage for all media? This week’s announcements, though, show that the AP is well aware of its old-school reputation (why else would it use Twitter to deliver a message instead of its own newswire service?) and is taking necessary steps to keep its style guidelines current.
The 2010 changes are rather significant as they look to remove stringent state-abbreviations requirements and to modernize the spelling of the now-common word, “website” (previously spelled “Web site”). Although the state-abbreviation modification is still pending review and may cause dissenting opinions, the feedback for updating “website” (a word already spelled as such in Webster’s New World College Dictionary) seems to be much more positive and agreeable. Traditionalists may feel slightly confused by the spelling shift, but I’m thinking Mashable represents a much larger group of supporters who ask, “Great —now can we get rid of the hyphen in ‘e-mail’?”
Judging by my Twitter feed, I’d say the AP is more relevant than it’s been in the past decade. We word nerds are continuing to discuss the implications of these major modifications, and the AP is carefully listening.
Micheal Foley, Content Editor
It didn’t take long for the folks in charge of the AP Stylebook to see the error of their ways.
Late last week, they issued a new entry for Twitter that just wasn’t quite right. The entry proclaimed, “The verb is to Twitter or to Tweet. A Twitter message is known as a Tweet.”
Over the weekend, AP Stylebook has come to its senses … sort of.
Today the monolithic authority on style and usage for all serious mainstream journalists in the United States issued the following correction:
“Editor’s Note: The Twitter entry has been corrected to say that to tweet as a verb and a tweet as a noun should be lowercase.”
Bravo! Thanks for being receptive to the feedback and making a swift change to your flawed entry.
But, hold on! The new entry still lists “to Twitter” as a verb. That’s just plain bad English. Of course we capitalize proper nouns, but there’s no such thing as a proper verb.
Of course, the AP Stylebook is set up (as is any dictionary) to list the acceptable usages in order of how common they are. I would argue that “to tweet” is used dozens, if not hundreds of times more often than “to twitter.” Therefore, “to tweet” should be listed as the first verb in the entry.
If I were to rewrite that part of the entry myself, it would say, “… The verb is to tweet or to twitter. A Twitter message is known as a tweet.”
Once they finally have the Twitter terminology and the technical aspects of the English language correct, maybe they could turn to a more accurate description of the Twitter service’s capabilities.
The AP Stylebook entry says it is “a community-based message-distribution system that allows users to post continual status updates of up to 140 characters detailing their activities for followers.” As any serious user knows, Twitter is capable of much more than just that.
Let’s see how long it takes for the AP Stylebook to make those changes.
Micheal Foley, Content Editor
Much to my delight, the Associated Press finally legitimized Twitter by giving it an entry in the AP Stylebook – the coveted manual on style and usage for all serious mainstream journalists in the United States.
Twitter A community-based message-distribution system that allows users to post continual status updates of up to 140 characters detailing their activities for followers. The verb is to Twitter or to Tweet. A Twitter message is known as a Tweet.
Hooray! Twitter has entered the mainstream. The highly trusted media institution has recognized Twitter and established usage rules on the social-networking site’s most common terms.
Wait. What did that say? To Twitter is a verb? A message is a Tweet?
That’s not what the vast majority of Twitter users think about the verb and noun status of these terms. In fact, Julia Roy famously commented on the verb/noun usage of these terms in the recent “I am a Geek” video (52 seconds into the video) where she types and says, “Oh and BTW tweet is a verb twitter is a noun.”
What’s worse is that AP seems to have created a new style out of thin air by capitalizing Tweet. Unfortunately, before forming their rules, the folks at AP didn’t seem to take into account how the top Twitter users actually use the terms.
Even the most authoritative source on the issue, Twitter itself, uses “tweet” as a verb and a noun (never capitalized) in all of the company’s official communications, such as its blog and its Twitter Support portal. Twitter is rarely used as a verb in these materials, and when it is, it is never capitalized. Only when referring to the service, site or company itself is Twitter capitalized.
The worst part of this usage debacle is that because AP style is so revered by the mainstream media, these incorrect terms will be parroted back to the public at large en masse. This phenomenon will pit new media and traditional media against each other once again (search “Web site vs. website” or “e-mail vs. email” for previous battles). Some of my geeky copy editor friends are beginning to wonder if AP really stands for “Ancient Prose.”
UPDATE (June 15, 2009): AP Stylebook Issues Half-Correction for Flawed Twitter Entry