The Genius of the Fake AP Stylebook The Genius of the Fake AP Stylebook
Culture

The Genius of the Fake AP Stylebook

by Mark Peters

December 5, 2009

A Twitter sensation skewers the media (and grammar Nazis too).


If you've ever been tortured by the APA, MLA, AP, or Chicago Manual of Style guidebooks, you're probably already gleefully enjoying the comedy of Twitter's Fake AP Stylebook, which offers memorable nuggets of writing advice, such as:

"Stupider" and "Stupidest" are not words, but can be used when describing Internet message board comments.

In titles, "acting" is lowercase, but capitalize the formal title after: "acting Mayor Jane Doe" "acting Swamp Thing."

When referring to someone with a Ph.D. as "doctor" immediately follow it with "but, you know, not a REAL doctor."

Always remember the six Ws- Who, What, Where, Why, When, Whow.

There are differences between "pass," "enact," "approve" and "adopt," but remember: your readers don't care.

Instead of "economic downturn," try financial melancholy, moneystorm, global bummer, The End Times.

All terms referring to Batman should be capitalized: Dark Knight, Caped Crusader, Our Lord and Savior, etc.

Clearly, the topic of language guidance was overdue for a satirical attack. Since October 20, Fake AP Stylebook has filled that gap. Attracting 1,000 followers on their first day-and with over 69,000 as of a few days ago (plus a book deal in the works)-it's safe to say you'll be hearing more from the folks who taught us "Commas are probably the most misunderstood of all punctuation. They frequently dress in black, listen to sad music, and cut themselves."

Full disclosure: As a word-obsessed writer and would-be humorist, my first reaction to Fake AP Stylebook's success was bitter jealousy, but the envy subsided somewhat when I realized the account is put together by a team of writers, not a solitary scribe like me. Fake AP Stylebook is a lot like The Onion, not only in tone, but also because the individuals are mostly anonymous. Ken Lowery and Mark Hale are the main men behind the account, but they command a roster of more than a dozen contributors. As Lowery said in this interview, the process is open-ended and collaborative: "We have the Google Group going and we have a few threads established. [There's] one for the open submissions thread, one for open questions when people ask the Fake AP questions. We link to the question and all throw out answers, and we're able to suggest responses, tweak them, and fine-tune them. Mark and I are basically the editors but as far as the actual creative part goes, it's a roundtable." That roundtable is influenced by fans as well, and Fake AP's policy of answering reader questions has no doubt played a part in their success.

In the Boston Globe, Jan Freeman wrote
I'd say Fake AP succeeded because it is much, much more than that. Even if you're not a writer, student, or public speaker, choosing the right words is always a treacherous business. What's the best way to break up with someone? How do I tell my boss I'm quitting? Are my Christmas cards riddled with embarrassing grammatical errors? Fake AP Stylebook would never have become so successful if it only appealed to journalists. It taps into universal anxieties about language.

Those anxieties are often heightened by the people who are supposed to relieve them: The harsh, unforgiving tone of a style manual is hardly unique to such books. English teachers, editors, language columnists, and usage mavens tend to hand down pronouncements with the certainty of Moses and the humor of a heart attack. Dennis Baron recently wrote a beautiful piece about how English teachers routinely paint a simplistic, batty, 18th-century vision of language that is contradicted by linguistics and everyday experience. Fake AP Stylebook is sweet revenge against anyone who ever tried to tell you how to use language-especially those who did it in a way that was wrong, annoying, or plain crazy.

I just wish I could get away with telling my students something like "'Xerox' is a trademarked name. Use ‘butt duplicator.'" Sigh.

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The Genius of the Fake AP Stylebook