Saturday, April 3, 2010

Say Goodbye to Calif. and Okla.

The Associated Press is changing its style for state abbreviations.

AP style, which is followed by the majority of U.S. newspapers, for decades prescribed a somewhat random set of abbreviations for states, to be used when they appeared after a city name. Now, APers will spell out the name of the state each time. So, it's now San Jose, California, instead of San Jose, Calif. The old list of abbreviations can be found here.

The change makes sense from an economic standpoint. In the early days of modern journalism, space was at a premium for text sent over telegraph wires and on the printed page. Indeed, journalism is famous for eschewing the serial comma to save space.

Now, space is less of a concern, so journalism might as well save itself the trouble of implementing AP's abbreviations. Indeed, the abbreviations were so counterintuitive that they were the basis of many a copy-editing test.

The tradeoff between conciseness and clarity has tilted in favor of the latter. Newspapers are now spelling everything out so as to not leave behind any readers, especially those who don't live in the United States and aren't familiar with state geography.