Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why I just despise the AP Stylebook

In his own private axis of evil, Tom Curley is slowly trying to drive me mad. What? You’ve never heard of Tommy?

Trust me, you have. In fact, you probably use his book regularly if you’re a writer. That’s because he is the CEO, president and chief villain of The Associated Press, publishers of The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law.

Being an English major, I never really had a need for an AP Stylebook until I landed a gig in a communications department.

Suddenly, stupid and seemingly meaningless rules started being spewed at me by a legalistic editor whom I’ll call Eva Braun. Eva was disgusted that I had actually earned a degree without knowing this stuff. I reminded Eva that I have other plans, like writing a novel, or a screenplay or a blurb in the Laughter is the Best Medicine section of The Reader’s Digest, and that this writing job is just a steppingstone on my garden path of life.

Fourteen years later, I’m still here, and although Eva is gone, I now have a well-worn copy of my own personal AP Stylebook. Not worn from use, however, but from the way I drop kick it across my office when it pisses me off.

Take this ridiculous rule, for example. “Spell out numbers less than 10, and use Arabic numbers for numbers 10 and above.” This rule results in sentences that look like this:

When we hired the 24 new employees, who knew that six would embezzle funds, 10 would arrive for work with electronic monitoring anklets and four would test positive for steroids?

Now I ask you, is this kind of mishmash necessary? I mean, how did the AP Stylebook people come up with this rule? I picture a bunch of them, way back when, at a pub, scribbling out the rules, and one slurs, “Let’s see how many shots it takes for Bitty to fall out of her chair, and that’s where the cutoff will be.” Bitty, a good sport and a hearty gal, doesn’t tumble until her ninth shot, hence the rule.

Then there are the caveats. “Yes,” the manual continues, “do spell out those numbers except in the following cases: addresses, ages, cents, dollars, dates, dimensions, highways, millions and/or billions, percentages, proportions, speed, temperature and times.” Honestly, who can keep it all straight?

Call me paranoid, but I know who can keep it all straight … the little arrogant pinheads at The Associated Press Stylebook publishing house. And they keep pumping out these new editions to keep us abreast of earth-shattering additions, like “Finland,” “Rolodex” and “jihad.” Oh, where would we be without you, AP Jedi masters?

Perhaps the most ominous sentence is in the foreword, where the CEO writes, “Part of the Stylebook’s mission is to sort out right from wrong.”

OK, so we have a lot of justice-hungry lawyer wannabes who couldn’t score high enough on their LSATs, so they decided to go into communications, and their great Uncle Olaf is the publisher of a small-town newspaper with a desk just waiting for them. Voila! A newspaper reporter is born. Got it. I want out as quickly as possible. Keep an eye out for my name in The Reader’s Digest.

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