News Nuggets: Froufrou

May 5, 2014

John Paxson, News Director

Language is a slippery thing.  Just when you think you have it pretty much in hand, it slithers away.   

At least it has been that way for more than 200 years.


At least it has been that way for over 200 years.

For a very long time language purists have insisted on using more than rather than over when referring to quantity. 

Fussy news editor: More than 20 people were arrested.

The hoi polloi: Over 20 people were arrested.

Enter now the Associated Press Stylebook which is the bible on words and word usage for most journalists.  AP now pronounces over as acceptable “in all uses to indicate greater numerical value. The crop was valued at over $5 billion.”  (The faint sounds you hear in the background are the screams of anguished denial from a thousand newsrooms.)

Left unaddressed by AP in this obviously weak-spined linguistic cave-in (can you guess where I stand?) is whether this usage change works the other way as well:

The plane flew over Tacoma.

The plane flew more than Tacoma.

Beyond personal fulminations, a scan through the What’s New section of the AP Stylebook holds up a pretty good mirror to society’s concerns.

In early April the AP told journalists they should no longer use the term illegal immigrant or the word illegal to describe a person. Illegal, they ruled, should be used to describe only an action. Illegal immigrant should be replaced by living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission.

AP’s social media guidelines have been broadened to include Android, circles, flash mob, Google Hangout, Instagram and Skype.

For a culture concerned about weapons, AP’s media law section now “spells out differences between assault rifle and assault weapon, magazine and clip, and pistol and revolver, and adds entries on bolt-action and lever-action rifles.”

If you ever thought of working as a news editor, note you’ll need to be current on a lot more words and usages than you might expect.

AP:  “Among more than 90 new and revised entries: Advent, after-party, Alaska Native, Asperger’s syndrome, athletic trainers, backstage, battleground states, Boxing Day, brain dead/ brain death, clinically dead/clinical death, Carnival, disabled/handicapped, distances, doughnut, dumpster, embryo, ethnic cleansing, face-lift, fetus, Fox, homicide/murder/manslaughter, horse meat, husband/wife, Islamist, landline…and on. And on.

About covers it, doesn’t it?  Well, actually no.

“Fashion Guidelines has been expanded with designers from Armani to Versace and two dozen new terms, including chichi, decollete, froufrou, paillette and soigne.”

Froufrou?  Indeed.