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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: Keeping up with the latest styles

By Tom Warhover
June 3, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

Dear Reader,

Is it tea party or Tea Party?

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According to the guidelines in The Associated Press Stylebook, the movement is lowercase.

AP editors, presumably, aren’t making a political statement here. The logic: People who identify with the tea party are part of a political movement, not a specific organization, whereas the Republican Party and the Democratic Party are the proper names for groups defined by things such as tax ID numbers and executive directors.

Critics, including those who identify with the tea party, might note that those other parties might have the advantage of uppercase but have lost any sense of movement a long time ago.

Note that I didn’t say “tea partyers.” That’s what the AP style calls for. The Missourian will allow it, but its local stylebook will note that the phrase is best avoided if possible.

Every year a group led by news editor Maggie Walter goes through these rules. We challenge the logic and each other. The AP usually calls the shots; the Missourian follows an entire book full of style guidelines set by the AP, with few exceptions.

The Missourian group accepted “email” instead of “e-mail.” The AP’s mashing of “cellphone” and “smartphone” from two words also made the cut, albeit with far less enthusiasm.

Sent back for more research and debate: “dwarf.”  AP now says that’s “the preferred term for people with a medical or genetic condition resulting in short stature.” Meanwhile, “midget” is considered offensive. Missourian editors wanted to check the rule against usage in other stylebooks, especially those that specialize in terms about disabilities.

“Drive-thru” drives me crazy.  AP has bowed to common use. After all, it’s the spelling you see when pulling through the McDonald’s parking lot. I don’t see anything wrong with keeping “through” in the drive. We can afford the extra letters, can’t we? (I’m still fighting those who would take the ugh out of doughnut.)

Local style counts most. The Missourian Stylebook should be a place where inconsistencies are resolved and disputes have been adjudicated.

“Bootheel” will be added for that part of our state where levees were blown up and farms flooded this spring. Departments at MU will be uppercased. Television channels will lose their numerical attachments because they are broadcast over different channels depending on the carrier.

For a long time, Crime Stoppers called itself CrimeStoppers, but if you check its website, it now reads as two words both on the Columbia and national websites. The Missourian will go with the most up-to-date version.

Most schools lose their full names over time. David H. Hickman High School is generally known as Hickman.

What about a new school?

The best guess is that most of the people who work at Alpha Hart Lewis Elementary School refer to it as Alpha Hart Lewis all the time, so the Missourian won’t truncate it either. Those smart first-graders who visited me a few weeks ago certainly set the record straight.

Ten years from now there may be a different decision.

Fr. Tolton Regional Catholic High School isn’t open yet, and already it’s causing debate — at least among Missourian style setters. On second reference, should it be Tolton High, Fr. Tolton High, Tolton Catholic or some other variation?

These are the kinds of questions that keep an editor awake nights.

Accuracy is often a moving target because the English language is an evolving thing. What is acceptable usage today may be obsolete, even pejorative, tomorrow. The challenge is to go where word usage takes us without being merely capricious.

Tom