You might recall that a few weeks ago I was lamenting the advancing age of my trusty “Associated Press Stylebook,” which has just turned 30. Well, I’m happy to report that I just received my shiny, new copy of the venerable tome’s current 55th edition, and, if there’s such a place as word wonk heaven, I’m in it.

So far, I’ve read the book’s first section, called “Stylebook,” which covers the correct way to write about everything from “AAA” to “Zurich,” and makes up about half of its 620 pages (the book’s index alone is 96 pages).

The only problem — for the Associated Press editors — is that in the book’s foreword, AP President Gary Pruitt mentions that his organization accepts contributions from all manner of writers as well as “everyday readers.” That means there’s got to be an opening somewhere in there for me.

Therefore, I couldn’t possibly pass up the opportunity to write down a few thoughts on what the editors at the AP might want to consider for inclusion in the book’s 56th edition, which is due out in July (at which time my new book will already begin to become outdated).

So here’s my more-or-less alphabetical look at some of the tweaks I’m suggesting for the new edition, beginning with the Red Cross. And why, you ask, is the Red Cross first? Well, if you had tried finding the phone number for the Red Cross back during the phone-book days of the Ice Storm of ‘98, your search would have been fruitless unless you looked for it under its actual name, the American Red Cross. Stylebook editors might want to include a reference to the organization, saying something like “Use ‘American Red Cross’ on first reference and ‘Red Cross’ is OK after that.”

I actually remember an editor asking me for help with that very matter. Another thing I recall from my Ice Storm experience is that while we often refer generally to the National Guard, the force is actually composed of the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard and should be referred to that way if speaking about either component specifically. Adding that information to the Stylebook’s entry on the National Guard would be appropriate.


In some cases, revisions to the Stylebook are necessitated by corporate name changes, as is the case with its “Big Three automakers” entry, where Fiat Chrysler has been replaced by Stelantis. The AP might also want to mention that the company’s Dodge Truck division became “Ram” beginning with the 2010 model year. (Oh, and don’t forget to mention that Facebook’s parent company is now “Meta.”)

In its “fewer, less” entry, the Stylebook advises using “fewer” for individual items (“I had fewer than 50 $1 bills in my pocket”) and “less” for bulk or quantity (“I had less than $50 in my pocket”). And the book is correct – as far as it goes.

But I would suggest they follow Merriam-Webster’s lead on some exceptions. In their “Words at Play” section, the editors at list several instances in which “less” can be used with countable items, such as “250 words or less.” Other cases in which the nonstandard use of “less” is acceptable include: money (“less than $20), distance (“less than three miles”), weight (“less than 10 ounces”), time (“less than 5 years”), and statistical enumeration (“less than 50,000 people”).

The next two paragraphs in the book are dedicated to acronyms and abbreviations, beginning with “swag,” which the AP says is “free stuff . . . given to presenters and other award-show participants.” Why not explain that swag stands for “stuff we all get”?

Other entries n the book the editors could elaborate on are the facts that “Taser” stands for “Tom A. Swift Electric Rifle,” that the finished size of a wooden “two-by-four” is actually 1.5 inches by 3.5 inches, and that “USS” (United States Ship) applies to commissioned U.S. Navy warships, while support vessels get the designation “USNS” (United States Naval Ship).

Finally, the Stylebook’s “who’s, whose” listing notes that “who’s” is a contraction for “who is” (the book should also note it works for “who has”), while “whose” is a possessive. Again this leaves an opening for editors to remind readers that “whose” can also be used when dealing with animals and objects that don’t have an equivalent word, as in “the movie whose name I can’t remember.”

Until next time, I’m a guy who’s run out of suggestions and whose column is getting too long anyway.

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.” He can be reached at

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: