AP Hyphen Outrage.

Merrill Perlman of the Columbia Journalism Review writes with her usual sensible approach (see this LH post from April) about the foofaraw that’s sprung up around the internet about recent changes in the Associated Press Stylebook’s hyphenation guidelines:

Even though the guidelines were not sudden, and even though AP explained them thoroughly, people were upset. Among those guidelines was to omit a hyphen in a compound modifier “if the modifier is commonly recognized as one phrase, and if the meaning is clear and unambiguous without the hyphen.” One example—the one that gave many editors fits—was “first quarter touchdown.” Well, angry mob, your voices were heard. AP announced on Twitter that it would reverse its decision […]

But were you satisfied? Of course not […] In fact, even after the Twitter reversal, the myth persisted that AP had laid down “laws” about the use of hyphens […] The apparent problem is that AP refuses to set down “rules.” As the stylebook says, using hyphens “can be a matter of taste, judgment and style sense.” Judging by many of the Twitter reactions to the change to the changes, people want “rules.” “Rules” are easy to follow; “guidelines” require you to stick your neck out and decide based on what the orchid-loving detective Nero Wolfe would call “intelligence guided by experience.” It means you have to believe in your own decision-making abilities. […]

Slate, which called the AP Stylebook “that fusty old guide to grammar and punctuation that most news publications have relied on for decades,” used the occasion to talk about why people react with such vehemence to changes most people wouldn’t even notice. “Grammar and punctuation and diction rules exist to uphold consistency, which in turn helps writing become clearer to the greatest number of possible readers,” Seth Maxon wrote. “As fewer and fewer people seem to agree on not just the truth, but the very meaning of language, it’s a tool that’s more valuable than ever.” The changes “made us question our faith. Institutions and rules are crumbling everywhere we look, and now, this too succumbs to anarchy? The AP Stylebook represents not just a set of laws about right and wrong, but the idea that something, anything, can be trustworthy and endure.” And when it looks like the institution is crumbling, people react as if the world were ending.

She ends with this admirable thought: “Creating our own grammar—and words, and usage—is how language changes. If you want ‘rules,’ make them for yourself, but be prepared to defend them.” And, I would add, try to accept the fact that people are going to break them.

Comments

  1. AJP Crown says:

    As the stylebook says, using hyphens “can be a matter of taste, judgment and style sense.” Judging by many of the Twitter reactions…

    Funnily enough I saw a tweet the other day by a slightly smug English barrister observing that it would be a sad day when people (in general, he meant) didn’t reserve the spelling judgment for court cases and for everything else (eg “The day of…”) use judgement. I know this style doesn’t apply in the United States but I wonder how many people elsewhere really do follow it. I do but only because it breaks the monotony.

  2. Honestly, what I thought was unusually useful about the Associated Press Style Guide and Libel Manual was not its dry pronouncements particularizing the AP’s house style (like never to spell “labor” with a u, even in the name of the British political party). It was its comments on specific usage issues that arose in writing news copy. For example ” illegal” is only to be used to describe things prohibited by statute, and writers are warned that parties in labor disputes are especially likely to use “illegal” much more broadly to describe their opponents’ actions.

    The (separate) guide for AP photographers also had lots of practical tips on how to compose shots for news coverage and on caption writing, often with a certain stylistic elan. The guide for caption writing ended with a section that was sufficiently memorable that I still know it: “… the first rule, the last rule, the one rule that is never, ever, ever, ever to be broken: Never write a caption without seeing the photograph.”

  3. David Eddyshaw says:

    Never write a caption without seeing the photograph.

    Agreed. Up there with that foundational piece of life advice “Never play cards with a man called Doc” (the origin of which I have just this minute discovered, though I have kept the commandment itself faithfully all my life.)

  4. John Cowan says:

    There’s apparently a prehistory to the expression going back before Nelson Algrens’ Walk on the Wild Side.

  5. Stu Clayton says:

    Seth Maxon wrote. “As fewer and fewer people seem to agree on not just the truth, but the very meaning of language, it’s a tool that’s more valuable than ever.”

    I’ve read about this “what is the truth?” business, in particular with regard to “alternative facts” etc. But “the very meaning of language” ? I don’t quite know what the expression means. Was there agreement on the very meaning of language ? Wherein did the agreement consist ?

    The only thing that occurs to me is something like “language is a tool for communication and deception”. Is there now disagreement on this ?

  6. AJP Crown says:

    Never eat in a place with sliding doors unless you’re crazy about raw fish. He means Japanese restaurants? People liked having a go at foreign food in the nineteen-fifties.

  7. Stu Clayton says:

    Algren and Simone de Beauvoir had a go in the late 40s and 50s. Here’s a book by a Japanese woman who accompanied Sartre and Beauvoir when they visited Japan in 1966: Sartre got Nausea from the raw fish.

  8. David Eddyshaw says:

    Sartre got nausea from the raw fish

    I knew it! cultural appropriation!

  9. Never eat in a place with sliding doors unless you’re crazy about raw fish. He means Japanese restaurants? People liked having a go at foreign food in the nineteen-fifties.

    Well, that rule developed from “tours of Singapore, Cebu City, Pusan, and Kowloon,” so he probably wasn’t thinking about restaurants in the West. (Also, in the same sentence “principles” is misspelled as “principals”; I don’t know whether that was the publisher’s error or Algren’s — I’m guessing he wasn’t a great speller.)

  10. I should have said “originally the publisher’s error or Algren’s”; it’s the publisher’s error in any case, because it’s their job to get the text right, however much they pretend now that it isn’t.

  11. And I’ve learned a great new word: foofaraw! Is it common in the States and what’s its origin? Anyone mind if I adopt it for the UK?

  12. AJP Crown says:

    Well I sympathise with Algren if that’s the case. I’m not a great speller myself. At least we can be sure it can’t be blamed on a computer spellchecker.

  13. And I’ve learned a great new word: foofaraw! Is it common in the States and what’s its origin? Anyone mind if I adopt it for the UK?

    It is great, isn’t it? OED (updated June 2006):

    Etymology: < French fanfaron, adjective ‘boastful’ (1668; 1609 as noun in sense ‘braggart’; compare French regional fanfarou) and its etymon Spanish fanfarrón, adjective ‘ostentatious, vain, arrogant’ and noun ‘braggart, show-off’ (1555; 1514 as panfarrón), of imitative origin (compare fanfare n.). Compare earlier fanfaron n.
    Forms in fr– are probably influenced by frou-frou n.

    North American colloquial.
    A. adj.
    U.S. regional (western). Fussy, vain; (also) gaudy, tawdry. Now historical and rare.
    1848 G. F. Ruxton in Blackwood’s Edinb. Mag. June 719/1 Them white gals are too much like picturs, and a deal too ‘fofarraw’ (fanfaron).
    1941 L. D. Baldwin Keelboat Age 97 She had no business acting so fofarrow for she was just a yaller gal.
    1947 A. B. Guthrie Big Sky 265 Too fofaraw, them bourgeways..are.
    1984 A. L. Waldo Sacajawea (rev. ed.) lii. 1176 I’ve never laid on such a foofaraw bed in all my days.

    B. n. originally U.S. regional (western).
    1. Trinkets or gaudy apparel; (in later use also) frivolous trappings or accoutrements.
    1848 G. F. Ruxton in Blackwood’s Edinb. Mag. Aug. 138/1 With both his better halves attired in all the glory of fofarraw, he went his way rejoicing.
    1850 L. H. Garrard Wah-to-Yah 105 You’ve got so much ‘fofarraw’ stuck ’bout you, this child didn’t savvy at fust!
    1948 J. Baumann Old Man Crow’s Boy 37 By then he..had formed the habit of trading furs..to Tatum at the store for fuforaw for his family, as well as supplies and traps.
    1966 J. H. Giles Great Adventure 98 No squaw wanted any other squaw to have more than she did, in beads and shells and paint and foofooraw.
    1981 P. C. Newman Canad. Establishm. (1990) II. i. 156 It has a four-car garage, a tennis court, adjoining servants’ suites, floodlit gardens, and a lot more outdoor foofaral.
    1995 N.Y. Times 30 July xi. 1/4 The same car but without such niceties as polished wooden picnic tables in the back seat and similar foofaraw.

    2. Ostentation. Also: fuss; commotion, uproar; = brouhaha n.
    1933 N.Y. Times Bk. Rev. 26 Mar. 7/1 A kinship born..of a common humor, and a common liking for the kind of theatrical display which Andy contemptuously calls ‘foofaraw’.
    1935 N.Y. Times 5 Aug. 14/5 This august assemblage of the powers of earth, with its pomp and circumstance, its foofaraw and medicine-making.
    1954 Time 1 Mar. 88/2 The Vatican’s recent decision..set off a foofaraw of petion-drafting [read petition-drafting], letter-signing, and complaining.
    1989 G. Anderson in New Q. Mag. Spring 34 The food isn’t what you’d think, in spite of all the foofara about Greek cooking.
    2004 Vanity Fair (N.Y.) Nov. 316/1 I have no idea how the later-summer foofaraw caused by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth played out.

    It’s not common (I’m the only person I know who uses it), but I love it and encourage you to adopt and spread it!

  14. AJP Crown says:

    «LES BEATLES DU SAVOIR»

    Jean-Paul et Georges-Ringo.

  15. I only use it in sense 2 “Ostentation. Also: fuss; commotion, uproar; = brouhaha.”

  16. «LES BEATLES DU SAVOIR»

    Good old Libé:

    Ainsi donc Asabuki Tomiko a passé vingt-huit jours au Japon avec Jean-Paul Sartre et Simone de Beauvoir et environ trois quarts de siècle sans eux. Les Sartre sont restés au Japon du 18 septembre au 16 octobre 1966, en pleine gloire; là-bas, on les comparait à des «Beatles du savoir». Tomiko, c’est son prénom, y fut leur groupie, leur guide, leur interprète, leur amie, presque leur soupirante, indulgente et attentionnée. Elle les connaissait déjà, elle est la traductrice des Mémoires d’une jeune fille rangée, de la Force des choses, de la Femme rompue, elle a mis presque trente ans à se décider à raconter ce voyage, et son récit est confit par le temps jusqu’à la quasi-béatification des personnages.

  17. AJP Crown says:

    The (separate) guide for AP photographers also had lots of practical tips on how to compose shots for news coverage and on caption writing, often with a certain stylistic elan.

    Thanks for that, Brett. I may buy it just out of curiosity but the people who really need it work for the Guardian/Observer. They write captions along the lines of ‘Old man in blue sweater picks a bunch of yellow flowers’ and here‘s one from last Sunday:

    On the water’s edge: William Wegman’s retreat in Maine is so remote it is an eight-hour drive from New York. He’s shown here by his lake with his two latest Weimaraners, Flo and Topper. Photograph: Benedict Evans/The Observer

    The new standard. Chicago is so remote it’s a twelve-hour drive from where my office reserved me a rental car. Buenos Aires is sooo remote…

  18. J.W. Brewer says:

    Jean-Paul et Georges-Ringo reminds me of a joke current in fall ’78 that the successor to the lamentably short-reigned Pope John Paul (I) should take the name John-Paul-George-Ringo, in acknowledgment of the “bigger than Jesus” claim that had been made barely two decades before that.

  19. I’ve long wondered if the “commotion” sense of “foofaraw” might be affected by “free-for-all.”

  20. John Cowan says:

    I don’t know where in Maine Wegman might live, but there are some mighty small and twisty roads up there. It’s six hours from NYC to Portland and another 40 minutes to Augusta, so I well believe that it takes him eight hours to drive between his two residences (that’s why NYC is relevant).

    Another idea was that John Paul I’s successor should name himself after his three predecessors, making him John Paul John Paul I.

  21. AJP Crown says:

    Bill Wegman used to live in the building where I worked, on Cedar Street, NYC10006. I used to encounter him briefly in the elevator.

  22. My God! Did you meet any of his Weimaraners??

  23. My wife and I are huge Wegman fans; this is more impressive to me than if you’d met Paul (though not John or Ringo).

  24. John Cowan says:

    I also wonder about connections between foofaraw and hooraw in the same sense.

  25. What about the connection between sense 1 (which I’ve never encountered) and froufrou?

  26. PlasticPaddy says:

    https://www.lalanguefrancaise.com/dictionnaire/definition-froufrou/
    gives cites from as far back as 1738 (also a more recent one from the not-to-everyone’s-taste Céline) and says: onomatopée redoublée. Ben oui☺

  27. PlasticPaddy says:

    If fanfare comes ultimately from Arabic farfar (any connection with Greek Barbaros? ) that also looks like onomatopoée redoublée

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