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We're all students

Hold on to your hats. A monumental change is pending. The Associated Press is weighing whether to abandon the traditional distinction in its stylebook between pupil and student, bowing to popular usage.

The distinction, which The Sun’s copy desk has been enforcing in recent years, to the frustration of our education reporters, rests on the apparently obsolete pedagogy that holds that young children, pupils, are instructed in the fundamentals of reading, writing and mathematics, coming in time to be students capable of pursuing learning with a greater degree of autonomy.

Were I a cynic, I would suspect that this shift in nomenclature is an attempt by schoolteachers, increasingly unable to instruct children how to read, write and compute competently, to shore up their reputations. It is analogous to the way that every jumped-up normal school seems to persuade authorities to confer upon it the title of university. All this will surely become moot when our credentials-mad culture issues a baccalaureate degree with each birth certificate and colleges shrink to institutions dealing with the handful of people who actually want to learn something.

All cynicism aside, those of us who are students of language recognize that it goes where it will, and it appears clearly to be eliminating pupil from common use.

So be it. The Sun, not waiting on laggards at AP, officially drops the pupil/student distinction from its in-house style, effective today.

Let joy be unconfined. Let toasts be drunk. Let the schools declare a half-holiday, and let a Te Deum be sung in the cathedral. All pupils are now students.

Posted by John McIntyre at 10:25 AM | | Comments (2)


Hm. An awful lot of passive voice in that last paragraph.... ;-)

Bah! It's a useful distinction and one that I'm sorry to see go.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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