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Springfield-based Merriam-Webster wins AP Stylebook affiliation over rival dictionary

The entry for the word "Black" is shown in the online version of the AP Stylebook, Friday, June 19, 2020, after the Associated Press changed its writing style guide to capitalize the "b" in the term Black when referring to people in a racial, ethnic or cultural context.
Rick Bowmer
/
AP
The entry for the word "Black" is shown in the online version of the AP Stylebook, Friday, June 19, 2020, after the Associated Press changed its writing style guide to capitalize the "b" in the term Black when referring to people in a racial, ethnic or cultural context.

Merriam-Webster has scored a big win in the publishing world.

The Springfield, Massachusetts-based dictionary is poised to have greater influence over language decisions made by news reporters and editors across the country.

The Associated Press publishes a style guide that helps media professionals and students know when to use a hyphen, which words to capitalize and what language is outdated or offensive.

The AP has long consulted Webster's New World College Dictionary as an official partner. (Despite the similar name, the dictionaries are unrelated.)

But Merriam-Webster is more nimble, said Stylebook editor Paula Froke.

"It is updated much more frequently to reflect new terms and evolving usage and other developments," Froke said in an interview Monday. "On top of all that, we have a terrific working relationship with Peter Sokolowski, the editor-at-large from Merriam-Webster, and we look forward to collaborating with him in the future."

Sokolowski, who is also a jazz host at NEPM, said Merriam-Webster is likewise excited to work more closely with the AP.

"It does feel like a victory. But it also kind of feels like a great cultural blend," he said, "of people who really research their facts, and really take care with the presentation of those facts."

Still, Sokolowski said the AP's decision was somewhat inevitable as Webster's New World long ago stopped being updated.

"That dictionary has not had a staff in more than 15 years," he said. "So what's happened is, it's sort of floated away into the distance without entries for the new gender pronouns — or even, do you hyphenate cease-fire? These basic kind of things that are not controversial, but you have to keep up to date."

Sokolowski said Merriam-Webster, which is owned by Encyclopaedia Britannica, will get some revenue from the deal — a share of the subscriptions news organizations pay for the Stylebook.

Froke said she has wanted to make the switch to Merriam-Webster since she became editor eight years ago. She said there are a few business details to work out before it's finalized.

"But editorially, it's safe to say that we are already using Merriam-Webster and informally have used them for a number of years, in addition to our former primary dictionary," she said.

The AP, which plans to officially make the change at the end of next month, made the announcement at the ACES: The Society for Editing conference last weekend.

A representative of the publisher of Webster's New World College Dictionary could not be reached for comment.

Sam Hudzik has overseen local news coverage on New England Public Media since 2013. He manages a team of about a dozen full- and part-time reporters and hosts.
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