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

Posted 8 days ago


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.

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.

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.

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 swa... (Read more)

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