The Associated Press (AP) tweeted on Monday that writers should not use the phrase “committed suicide.”
The AP Stylebook And Briefing On Media Law, in print since 1953, is widely used by English language publications. When first published, the style book’s goal was “to make Associated Press writers better writers,” according to the Columbia Journalism Review. (RELATED: AP Refers To Illegal Immigrants As ‘Undocumented Citizens’)
We added this guidance on the language of suicide in 2015, and expanded it in 2019, in consultation with mental health experts.
Our entry points to https://t.co/y7iO4X5s48 as an additional resource.
— APStylebook (@APStylebook) February 22, 2021
The AP first issued that language guidance in 2015 and updated it in 2019.
Activists have suggested the phrase “committed suicide” is harmful in discussions of suicide. “To ‘commit’ suicide has criminal overtones which refer to a past time when it was illegal to kill oneself. Committing suicide was akin to committing murder or rape; linguistically, therefore, they are still linked,” the Canadian Centre for Suicide Prevention argues.
Here are five other recent AP style recommendations.
The AP suggested in Dec. 2020 that using the phrase “the homeless” is dehumanizing. Instead, writers should use phrases like “people without housing” or “people without homes.”
Homeless is generally acceptable as an adjective to describe people without a fixed residence. Avoid the dehumanizing “the homeless.” Instead, use constructions like “homeless people,” “people without housing,” “people without homes.” Say a person is homeless only when relevant.
— APStylebook (@APStylebook) December 7, 2020
Words such as crazy, insane, and nuts should not be used unless they are in a direct quote, the AP advised in Nov. 2020, because they make light of serious mental health issues.
Do not use derogatory terms, such as insane, crazy/crazed, nuts or deranged, unless they are part of a quotation that is essential to the story.
Avoid using mental health terms to describe unrelated issues. Don’t say that an awards show, for example, was schizophrenic.
— APStylebook (@APStylebook) November 10, 2020
The editors of Spiked magazine responded to the change by arguing that “interventions like this threaten journalistic freedom,” because “the AP is trying to change the meaning of words.”
During the summer 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, some of which turned violent and led to deaths and property damage, the AP claimed that a focus on violence could unfairly “stigmatize broad swaths of people protesting against lynching, police brutality or for racial justice.”
Focusing on rioting and property destruction rather than underlying grievance has been used in the past to stigmatize broad swaths of people protesting against lynching, police brutality or for racial justice, going back to the urban uprisings of the 1960s. (2/5)
— APStylebook (@APStylebook) September 30, 2020
The AP stylebook offered different guidance for the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. The AP not only suggested that words such as “mob” or “riot” would be acceptable to describe the Capitol riot. It also suggested writers emphasize the violence at the Capitol by including “strong adjectives.”
Consider surrounding it with strong adjectives and context, such as “violent protest” or “rioting protesters.”
Calling it a “mob” or a “riot” would also be appropriate, especially when the protesters’ actions were wild, widespread, violent and uncontrolled.
— APStylebook (@APStylebook) January 6, 2021
Defund the Police
The AP recommended that writers not use the phrase “defund the police” unless it is in a direct quote, because the term is “often misrepresented as abolishing the police.”
Avoid using the term “defund the police” other than in a direct quotation; if used in a quotation, explain and provide detail about what is being sought. (2/2)
— APStylebook (@APStylebook) September 15, 2020
Democratic Missouri Rep. and former Black Lives Matter group leader Cori Bush called “defund the police” “a mandate to keep our people alive.”
The Minneapolis City Council voted to completely abolish the city’s police department in June 2020 in response to demands from protesters. (RELATED: ‘You Can Hear Gunshots’: Minneapolis Residents Sue City For Failing To Adequately Staff Police Amid Crime Surge)
The AP Stylebook released a lengthy statement in July 2020 explaining that it would capitalize the word “Black” when referring to racial categories. Black people “have strong historical and cultural commonalities, even if they are from different parts of the world and even if they now live in different parts of the world. That includes the shared experience of discrimination due solely to the color of one’s skin,” AP’s vice president for standards John Daniszewski said.
However, white is not capitalized by the AP because doing so “risks subtly conveying legitimacy to … [the] beliefs” of white supremacist groups, many of whom capitalize the word “white.”
Editors note: This piece has been updated to reflect that the AP’s guidance on the language was added in 2015 and updated in 2019.