Words for our times

Here is an entry in the 2008 Associated Press Stylebook:

outsourcing A business practice used by companies to reduce costs by transferring work previously performed in-house to outside suppliers.

I am reading a book (review to come when I finish) about words that have come into English from other languages. I am struck by how the author shows the connection between what was going on in the world and what words entered the language. The Associated Press Stylebook shows the changes in the language, too.

The 1996 version of the stylebook appears to be the first one that had entries for Internet and World Wide Web; the 2000 version had a separate section, printed on gray paper, that defined and set style for various terms associated with the Internet and computers: baud, e-mail and emoticon, for example. In the 2008 version, as it has been for several years, Internet and computer terms are not listed separately.

The 2008 version has entries on social networking, podcast and wiki, among others. The 1977 version had Viet Cong, Solid South and Common Market. It has gizmo, an entry no longer in the stylebook, presumably because it’s in dictionaries.

Before 2000, the AP used courtesy titles for women, but not men, in news stories. The 1977 version did allow Ms. As I recall, that was the first mention of Ms. in the stylebook. I don’t have any older versions than 1977. (I had a stylebook for my first year in the business, 1976, but I must have left it behind when I left my first newspaper, the Hickory Daily Record, in 1979.)

Here is one difference worth noting from the 1977 edition: kids. In a separate entry in 1977, we were told, "Use children unless you are talking about goats, or the use of kids as an informal synonym for children is appropriate in the context." In this year’s edition, as it has been, we find no separate entry for kids, but under the children entry, we find "Avoid kids as an a universal synonym, unless the tone of the story dictates less formal usage." I would say that rule is universally flouted.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.