Today one of the top trending tweets on the topic of English usage was “Washington Post will allow singular they”. The same Post memo stating that they is now okay included the style guide updates regarding the spelling of email, website, mic and Walmart (instead of e-mail, Web site, mike and Wal-Mart). The comments of Twitter users were quite positive and many welcomed the update as a sensible gender-neutral variant. This news followed last week’s story of the New York Times introducing the gender-neutral honorific Mx.
By the time newspaper style guides include updates, this is usually (and understandably) at a point when the respective linguistic feature is already in wide use. There are also differences regarding the speed of their acceptance across publications (The New York Times is still quite skeptical about the usage of split infinitives).
The updates and changes in newspaper style guides are popular news topics and they travel far. At the 2014 American Copy Editors Society conference, the AP Stylebook editors announced that “over” is fine when referring to quantity, and that it doesn’t need to be replaced by “more than”. The change caused strong reactions.
When the AP Stylebook announced in 2012 the update on the usage of an “old chestnut”, hopefully, some similar reactions followed (Seems the AP has been tasked with dumbing down the language. Hopefully, we’ll ignore its — oh, let’s just say their — illiterate nonsense.), although most of the commenters rightfully pointed out that the usage has already been accepted by most speakers and in most contexts for a while – the change was overdue.
What I find interesting in these reports is the relevance that the commenters give to the changes in newspaper style guides. Most of these books are envisioned as in-house guides and their purpose is ensuring the uniformity of style of a particular publication. The authors of style guides and journalists like to point out this fact and restrict themselves from being viewed as linguistic authorities by the public, but rather only as skilled, professional language users. It seems that this does not stop the public from viewing language professionals such as journalists as authorities on matters of usage.
If you know of any other news stories such as these, please share them (or any other feedback) in the comment section below!