Tag Archives: Associated Press Stylebook

Don’t Get Hysterical Over Historic or Historical

Historic Road SignDriving south on I-5 from Vancouver, B.C., to Seattle recently, our car passed several signs for sites related to Puget Sound history, directing drivers to various historic districts or historical parks and museums. As our region’s duly appointed deputy of the Proofreader General of the United States (PGUS), I wondered which of these collaborations of local groups and state Department of Transportation sign-makers were grammatically accurate. Should it be historic or historical, or are the two similar words interchangeable?

According to the Associated Press Stylebook, “a historic event is an important occurrence, one that stands out in history. Any occurrence in the past is a historical event.” But should the same rule apply to buildings, neighborhoods or districts? Are these places merely old, or did something significant occur there? The Grammarist website notes, “Buildings, villages, districts and landmarks deemed historically important are often described as historic because they are historically significant in addition to being of or related to history. Societies dedicated to recognizing and preserving these things are called historical societies because they are concerned with history but not momentous in themselves.” So a historical society might be responsible for maintaining a historic site. Got it?

The best and most thorough discussion of proper usage of historic or historical that I’ve found is this one. Its author points out the other wrinkle in this conundrum: Is it correct to put “a” or “an” in front of historic or historical? (Unless your audience is British, there’s little debating “a” is the correct way to go.)

Historical MarkerSo what about those I-5 road signs? As the late columnist and linguist William Safire said, “Any past event is historical, but only the most memorable ones are historic.” So when it comes to the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Seattle, the Fairhaven Historic District in Bellingham and the “historic waterfront” of LaConner, we’ll let the tourists judge for themselves. If they can’t make up their minds, hire an editor.

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Style Books Battle

2013 AP StylebookAfter ordering my own  copy of the recently issued 2013 Associated Press Stylebook, I was amused when an editor friend sent me this news item:
 
4 Copy Editors Killed In Ongoing AP Stylebook , Chicago Manual Gang Violence
NEW YORK—Law enforcement officials confirmed Friday that four more copy editors were killed this week amid ongoing violence between two rival gangs divided by their loyalties to the The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual Of Style. “At this time we have reason to believe the killings were gang-related and carried out by adherents of both the AP and Chicago styles, part of a vicious, bloody feud to establish control over the grammar and usage guidelines governing American English,” said FBI spokesman Paul Holstein, showing reporters graffiti tags in which the word “anti-social” had been corrected to read “antisocial.” “The deadly territory dispute between these two organizations, as well as the notorious MLA Handbook gang, has claimed the lives of more than 63 publishing professionals this year alone.” Officials also stated that an innocent 35-year-old passerby who found himself caught up in a long-winded dispute over use of the serial, or Oxford, comma had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Relax before taking this TOO seriously. It came from the satiric Onion website.

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Recent AP Changes Show Style Is Always in Flux

AP Stylebook: Ch-ch-ch-changes.

The Associated Press, which in its 2010 Stylebook went from Web site (two words, capitalized) to website (one word, lower case) while retaining the capital letter for the Web (not a synonym for Internet, by the way) announced more switches in AP Style at the February 2011 Phoenix conference of the American Copy Editors Society. The latest changes include “email” instead of “e-mail,” “cellphone” instead of “cell phone” and “smartphone” instead of “smart phone.” This works fine, of course, until auto-hyphen programs break these words between syllables and insert a hyphen at the end of a line.

Style rule changes can be seen as necessary to keep up with rapidly changing times and conventions–or as a way to make editors keep buying a new AP Stylebook every year.

My advice: Choose your own style rules. Then hire an editor to make sure you stick with them.

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