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Chicago vs. AP – Armageddon: The Red Pen

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Hey, AP Style Book. Yeah, I’m talking to you. Seriously, who do you think you are? You really think you know everything, don’t you? Your tag line—The Bible Of The Newspaper Industry (written in your ridiculous headline style)—is pompous and really not something to be bragging about these days, considering newspapers are going the way of hypercolor shirts.


The thing is, AP, I’m not drinking your non-serial-comma-using Kool Aid and I have personally made it my mission to save others from drinking it. Here’s why …


First of all, don’t you think you’re coming off a little desperate? Seriously, on your cover, it says you’re the Bible and also touts the fact that you’ve sold over two million copies. But it doesn’t stop there—it also says you are fully revised and updated, “with dozens of new entries, the industry’s best-selling reference for 30 (I hate the way you do numbers, AP) years, essential for journalists, students, editors (no serial comma here, you jerk) and writers in all professions. You even have Associated Press written on there twice. Little insecure are we?


Let’s compare this to the CMOS, which says—The Chicago Manual of Style, the essential guide for writers, editors, and publishers, 15th edition.


That’s it. Enough said.


Here’s another thing. People say you are easy to use and that your 400+ pages are much more accessible than the 900+ pages in CMOS. You might be proud of the fact that you are “easy to use,” but is there really any glory in appealing to the masses versus the educated elite?


Honestly, you are the Cliff’s Notes of the style guide world and CMOS is the actual novel. Do you really take pride in being the go-to style guide for hungover college kids? Does it make you happy to be Friday the 13th, Part XXIX rather than The Godfather?

Listen, AP, nothing in life worth having is easy. Your whole “easy to use” shtick isn’t going to win me over. So what if CMOS is more complicated? Are you telling me you think it’s better to be a bottle of Boone’s versus a bottle of Pétrus, all in the name of simplicity?


Plus, you aren’t so easy—like, where is your freakin’ index? Trying to find something in you is like trying to find a four-leaf clover … in the desert … blindfolded … with my hands bound behind my back and Celine Dion singing “My Heart Will Go On” full blast in my ear. Jeez!


And then, on your Web site, it says that you provide guidance for the uniform presentation of the printed word, so that a news story will be universally understood.


You know what else is universally understood? Baby talk. Researchers have discovered that people from all sorts of different cultures can tell when foreigners are speaking in baby talk. Turns out, baby talk is also used and recognized by monkeys, too. If you really are the Bible, wouldn’t it be kind of sacrilegious to include monkeys among your followers?




Maybe you think that you are super special because you deliver the news, but I ask you, AP, what’s the big whoop? What good has the news really done anyway? Made us freak out about a couple hundred people getting the swine flu when the old garden variety flu causes 36,000 deaths each year in the U.S. alone? Tell us about horrific crimes and violence but never anything about nice people doing nice things? Devote eighty million hours to the O.J. trial and eight seconds to the cute baby polar bear born in the zoo? AP, if you’re part of the news, you’re part of the problem.

Still think you’re cool? Well, on the “Ask an Editor” page on your Web site, where people ask you style questions, you advise the inquirer to use the CMOS fourteen times! Some of the advice you offer—“The Chicago Manual of Style might provide the guidance you need.” “A better resource for this is The Chicago Manual of Style.” “I’ll grant you, though, that The Chicago Manual is better …”


You know how many times the CMOS advises a reader to use you? None.


You know, AP, if we met in a dark alley, I’d really give it to you, but in the interest of time, I am going to focus on one last thing.


Maybe you’ve heard of a book called Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. Great little book, it is. On the back, there’s a story that goes a little something like this:


A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots into the air.


“Why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes his way toward the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.


“I’m a panda,” he says at the door. “Look it up.”


The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.


“Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”


Here’s the deal, AP. Commas matter. A lot. And frankly, I don’t like your laissez-faire approach to them. Your absolute refusal to use a serial comma is the last straw for me. (And I don’t know what you did to get the advertisers on your side, but I’m sure it was low-down and dirty.) You know what the two nicknames are for the serial comma? The Oxford and the Harvard. Maybe you’ve heard of them.




You know why the serial comma is important? Because it reduces ambiguity! For example, in your world, this would be fine:

I would like to thank my parents, Beethoven and God.


In one publication by your followers, the Times, a UK paper, a description of a Peter Ustinov documentary included the following:


“… highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector.”


Can’t you see what you’re doing?


Here’s what a couple of your brainwashed automatons said about CMOS:


Definitely too much for a NON detail-oriented persone like me!!!!!!!


I prefer AP, but only because it’s easier to find things in. If I need to know about commas after “so”, or if a particular u.m. is hyphenated, I just look it up alphabetically in the AP.


AP, you seem to have a lot of people fooled, but obviously only the ones who can’t spell, use proper punctuation, or write well. But I’m not fooled. No, not this editor. Not this editor, AP.


Read the previous Red Pen.


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