Why the AP Stylebook can drive you crazy

APStylebook2010The Associated Press Stylebook helps create standards for publication writing. It tells writers and editors how to spell words and how to render numbers, among other things. It also offers rules on grammar and usage. It is the stylebook we rely on at The N&O, supplemented by an internal stylebook. The AP stylebook can be a valuable tool; it can also be a path to confusion.

In the 2008 edition of the AP stylebook, the entry on collective nouns contained this sentence: "Team names and band names, however, take plural verbs."

This drove me crazy. I don't have to deal often with team names such as the Miami Heat and the Utah Jazz (which, by the way, makes no sense — Jazz in Utah?!?) so I don't care much what verbs the sports guys and gals use, but I do have to edit copy with band names such as Hammer No More the Fingers (worst band name ever) and the Old Crow Medicine Show (a favorite in the Nelson household). I have always followed the form of the name. So the Beatles take a plural verb, and the Who takes a singular verb.

But last week when I had a story about Little Big Town, I tried to follow the 2008 AP rule, holding my nose as I chose a plural verb. My colleague raised a question about the verb, so I justified it with the style rule.

But, lo and behold, the stylebook has changed its advice again. In the 2010 edition, the collective nouns entry contains this: "Team or group names with no plural forms also take plural verbs: The Miami Heat are battling for third place. Other examples: Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz. Many singular names take singular verbs." And the first example cited in singular names is a band name: Coldplay is on tour.

The online stylebook shortens the entry further: "However, team names such as the Jazz, the Magic, the Avalanche and the Thunder take plural verbs. Many singular names take singular verbs: Boston is favored in the playoffs. The Cardinal is in the NCAA tournament." The editors apparently tried to forget all about the 2008 band names misadventure.

So I will use singular verbs when the subject is Coldplay, Hammer No More the Fingers, I Was Totally Destroying It, Old Ceremony or any of the rest of the singular-sounding band names. Of course, I still don't know what to with Rascal Flatts. Maybe those guys will break up soon.

This post is not to say that I think the AP Stylebook is worthless. It is a tool like any other and must be used with common sense and protective eyewear.

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.