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Fetch me a switch, AP Stylebook

After I administered a little love tap to @APStylebook yesterday for their tweet saying that gray is the spelling of the word for the color, they sent out this contrite follow-up:

Further on gray: AP's primary reference is the Webster's New World College Dictionary, which prefers that spelling.

Not so fast, @APStylebook.

Webster’s New World College Dictionary, “the official dictionary of the Associated Press,” is a real dictionary produced by real lexicographers. Real lexicographers do not “prefer” spellings. Webster’s New World lists main spellings, “alternative spellings,” and “variant spellings,” not “preferred spellings.”

This is not mere playing with terms. Alternative spellings are understood to be roughly as widespread as the main spelling (the first spelling listed). It is an entirely arbitrary choice, for example to pick ax over axe, or the reverse. Moreover, variant spellings may be appropriate for certain regions, occasions, or contexts.

Referring to “preferred” spellings risks falling into the common misunderstanding that the first spelling listed is the one the dictionary has legislated as the spelling of the word. Actually, it is merely the most common version of the word the lexicographers have encountered.

Once again, a spelling the AP Stylebook prefers is not necessarily the “right” spelling; when there are alternatives or variants, it is merely the form arbitrarily selected to permit uniform practice. That is all.


Posted by John McIntyre at 12:08 AM | | Comments (4)


You are ruthless. That is all.

Webster's New World College Dictionary, "The Official Dictionary of the Associated Press," ignores AP's "preference" for "The Associated Press." AP copy also is littered with examples of writing and editing that ignores the AP Stylebook.

I would bet Mr. McIntyre knows a few Ruths.

to post this comment I am asked to believe that "224" is a word. Stand firm for grammatical usage and spelling--not many do.
Anne Warrington Wilson

I found this blog post timely, especially since the writers at one of the world's most visited Web site (or is it website?) can't agree on the spelling of "gray" (or is it "grey?). Here's just one example:

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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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