The Associated Press Instructs Writers Not To Say ‘Committed Suicide.’ Here Are Five More Recent Style Changes.

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Michael Ginsberg Congressional Reporter
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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’)

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.”

Crazy, Insane

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.

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.”

The AP suggested that writers should use less emotionally charged terms like unrest, protest, and demonstration.

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.”

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.”

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.