The Associated Press Stylebook has been the bible for journalists for years, providing guidance on punctuation, capitalization and other usage questions.
This newspaper, like thousands of others in the country, follows AP Style.
The AP Style mavens saw fit last week to send out an email with 54 – count ’em – rules related to the holidays. All the holidays at the end of the year were covered – Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year’s.
Some of it was inside baseball for journalists (When writing about Santa Claus, don’t use “Claus” on second reference). Some of it was a cultural explanation for someone who arrived from another planet (The Grinch is a “spoilsport who steals holiday fun.”).
And some of it is worth sharing to help you when writing your firm or family holiday newsletter or when you need a conversation starter at that virtual firm holiday party you’ll be forced to attend. Here you go:
NOT THIS YEAR. The Stylebook helpfully notes that mistletoe is a “yellowish evergreen hung as a Christmas decoration; by tradition, people kiss when standing under a sprig.” Don’t go looking for mistletoe in a Zoom chatroom.
YOU COULD WIN A BET. Try this on your partners, or perhaps a gullible associate. Unlike singer-actor Kris Kristofferson, Kriss Kringle spells his first name with a second “s.” Really. You can look it up.
NO X, NO X. AP frowns on the term “Xmas.” The Stylebook sternly warns, “Don’t use this abbreviation.” X does not mark the spot.
ARGUMENTS MORE BITTER THAN THE ELECTION. The Stylebook cites two ongoing disagreements over terminology that no doubt have broken up law firms, caused divorces and prompted angry will-rewriting.
Dressing or stuffing? Just what do you call the cornbready glop that is served with turkey? The Stylebook says “dressing” is “cooked outside of the bird,” while “stuffing” is cooked inside. Then, perhaps wanting to remain in the will, the Stylebook writers add, “Use of the terms also varies regionally in the U.S., with one preferred over the other in some places regardless of how it’s prepared.” Wimps.
Frosting or icing? A similar debate. The Stylebook notes, “Either term can be used to describe a topping of sugar, butter and other ingredients applied to cookies, cakes and other pastries. Use of the terms varies regionally in the U.S.” Wimps again.
THE AP THROWS IN THE TOWEL. Imagine the gnashing over an innocuous word that you’ll find in most oven settings: “preheat.” The AP fought it for years, arguing that you don’t preheat an oven, you heat it. In 2020, the AP said, “What. Ever.” “Preheat” is now an acceptable term “to refer to heating an oven to a specific temperature before cooking.”
SINGALONG TIME. Music is important during the holidays, and the AP is here to help.
“Auld Lang Syne.” AP felt the need to explain this New Year’s tradition: “Sung to greet the new year, poem by Robert Burns set to Scottish music.” Not mentioned is whether bagpipes are optional.
“The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Totally inside stuff, but the Stylebook is breaking a rule to allow this song title. The normal rule is to spell out numbers under 10, and use numerals after that. This really should be 12, not twelve.
fa la la la la, la la la la. This is a noteworthy tip. Just in case you need to write this out, “musical notes are separate words and lowercase.” The comma ma ma ma goes after the fourth “la.”
CHEERS! We’ll close with a toast, or at least with three Stylebook rules that might cover a toast.
Champagne. Only use a capital C if you’re quaffing a sparkling wine from that particular region of France. Otherwise, all you got is “sparkling wine.”
Hangover. One word, no hyphen. You’re not on the edge on the roof.
Lighted, lit. “Either is acceptable as the past tense form of light,” according to the Stylebook. That’s the rule for a candle. If you’ve had too much Champagne, or even sparkling wine, you need to use “lit.”