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Tom Germond
Leaping lexicons and dumpster talk
Article published on Tuesday, June 11, 2013
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The staff language Bible has turned my world upside down.

That would be the Associated Press Online Stylebook, a comprehensive reference manual that outlines basic rules on grammar, punctuation, usage and journalistic style.

Our editors use the stylebook extensively; otherwise, we’d kill each other. Newsroom grammar wars ain’t pretty.

Since the 1970s I have been consulting the stylebook and for years have changed the word “underway” to “under way” in letters to the editor and reporter’s copy – probably more than a thousand times.

Not anymore. When I pointed out recently that “underway” was spelled incorrectly in a headline, a co-worker set me straight.

“The stylebook update in April said that ‘under way’ is two words,” she said.

Leaping lexicons! I couldn’t believe my ears. I ran to my computer in hopes that she was joking. Sure enough, the AP’s entry for “underway” said “one word in all uses.”

Further explaining, the AP said it was complying with the dictionary – Webster’s New World College Dictionary, which is the AP Stylebook’s main reference.

Dictionary be damned. It’s almost impossible for us to keep up with changes in rules for grammar and style, especially since newspaper staffs are shrinking. Papers large and small just don’t have the manpower to edit and proofread stories as much as we believe we should.

There’s even a new entry for the correct spelling of the North Korean leader: Kim Jong Un instead of Kim jawng oon. Sorry, “that North Korean SOB” is unacceptable in all references, including letters to the editor.

Another recent change: “Dumpster” is the correct reference for “a large metal trash bin.” For years, editors were taught to change “dumpster” in copy to another word, to avoid receiving a nasty letter pertaining to the improper use of trade names from the Dempster Brothers, which made the Dempster Dumpsters.

That’s a relief. It’s more concise to write in an editorial that Kim Jong Un should be thrown in a dumpster than Kim Jong Un should be thrown in a large metal trash bin.

Mo-ped is now “moped” to conform with the dictionary, AP says. I have no problem with that as long as “moped” is not used as a verb. Far too much “verbing” out there.

Along those lines, I recently read a news release that said that an accident “victim was helicoptered” to hospital.

Can’t remember what the victim’s injuries were, but the press release required a lot of surgery.

More annoying verbing: “We dialogued,” “in box me” and “efforting.”

Oops, AP says “inbox” is one word. The AP Stylebook even has 185 fashion entries, “from A-line to Giorgio Armani, bodysuit to pantsuit to zoot suit.” I don’t even know what a zoot suit is; sounds like clothing that belongs in the dumpster.

Fashion guidelines? Somebody please beer me.

The AP Stylebook says to abbreviate boulevard, avenue and street in numbered addresses, but not road, drive and terrace. Hopefully, readers will forgive us if we do.

Every now and then, we hear from readers chastising us for committing errors in grammar and spelling and for missing typos. Even though a headline may be read three or four times, sometimes a typo slips by us. Nice to hear from the press crew, too, when they catch errors – especially before the presses run.

I’ll probably read this column six times because somebody out there will find an error in this piece and let me know about it. Such is life.

I’ll just grin and bear it. In the words of Mark Twain, “I don’t give a damn for the man who can only spell a word one way.”

However, you’ll never catch me using any type of aircraft as a verb. And the day that AP says such usage is acceptable, somebody push me out of a helicopter.

But not into a dumpster, please.

Tom Germond is executive editor of Tampa Bay Newspapers. Email him at
Article published on Tuesday, June 11, 2013
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