Saturday, August 13, 2011

It is all-America, not All-American

This remains a personal issue to me, and far too many institutions continue to misread and misapply the AP stylebook. You'll understand more about why I'm convinced shortly. In the generic, it is all-American. In fact, if you own an online stylebook subscription and do the search, you'll find the answer within the "Ask the Editor" segment.

Still, the stubborn resist, and for the good of the order, here's my essay to Associated Press pressing them for an official revision in the stylebook. What you hear is the sound of crickets as AP never responded.

From my personal past, I once served as a UPI correspondent in the early 1980s and was well acquainted later with Associated Press offices through my work in sports information. The unofficial explanation of “All-American” for the AP Stylebook was the designation that the only team recognized by the AP was its own team, and only in football and men’s basketball. In copy, any other honor squad was not to be referenced. The reasoning was to prevent the introduction of UPI All-Americans, which in men’s basketball had become somewhat of a competitor. The existing text in the Stylebook is a legacy from the early 1980s when this became somewhat contentious. Quoting from the 1980 edition:

The Associated Press recognizes only one All-America football team. This is Walter Camp’s selection through 1924, and AP selections after that. Do no call anyone an All-America player unless he is listed on either the Camp or AP roster.

Similarly do not call anyone an All-America basketball player unless an AP selection. The first All-America basketball team was chosen in 1948.

An individual team member may be called an All-American, but use All-America in all other uses: He is an All-American. He is an All-America player.

The same rules apply to the Little All-America teams in both football and basketball.

By 1984, again, referencing personal knowledge, there had been some contention regarding who should be all-America in basketball, and this is where we see the change in text to reflect.

We know AP has a strong commitment toward making sure we have proper first reference and avoidance of trademark in favor of appropriate generic. It seems that All-America was intended to mean AP All-America, referencing what essentially is a proper name or trademark. As surely as the entry for Kleenex and Xerox make clear they are trademark names for facial tissue and photocopier, it seems the AP went against its own guidelines.

The exception of “All-America” goes against the usage of other “all-“ words immediately before the entry, most notably, all-star. Here is where the capitalization begins to quickly break down.

When we write of somebody having an all-America personality or all-America characteristics, none of the standard dictionaries would support converting that into All-American. What of a person who embodies the spirit of what it is to be Canadian – there is no entry for All-Canada. Should we additionally have All-Asia, All-Commonwealth and All-England?

The all-star entry is the key to a better solution. When speaking of a particular team, it is understood that official title would be capitalized: Associated Press All-American, State Farm All-American, etc. However, speaking generically, it would be more consistent to say:

She was selected all-American
She was selected all-conference
She was an all-state nominee
She was selected all-district
She was all-city

What the All-America rule in the Stylebook has led to is a series of interesting misinterpretations based on the idea that “All-“ should be capitalized. Or, does it follow that any proper noun brings on the capital “A”

She was All-American
She was named all-conference (but All-Southeastern Conference)
She was named all-state (but All-Arkansas)
She was nominated for all-city (but All-Dallas)

If “all” is merely a prefix, one would believe it would be implemented consistently. Unfortunately, as the Stylebook is silent beyond it’s own reference to All-America, others are inferring the “All-“ designation to any sports-oriented honorary team should be across the board.

This does not seem consistent with other usages for similar generic to proper name implantation. For example, just a page away from “All-America” is the reference for airline: “Capitalize airlines, air lines or airways when used as a part of a proper airline name.” Similarly, within airport there is the clear distinction between official name and generic. “There is no Boston Airport, for example. The Boston airport (lowercase airport) would be acceptable if for some reason the proper name, Logan International Airport, were not used.”

If so, then it would seem to follow that the Stylebook is not applied consistently. If we consider that we are to lowercase and spell out titles not use with an individual’s name, it would seem the constructions would be:

He’s an all-city, all-state and all-America selection.

Instead, citing the Stylebook, that sentence is often rendered as either:
He’s an all-city, all-state and All-America selection
He’s an All-City, All-State and All-America selection

We don’t see support for the capital “A”, and within the prefix entry, the notation that the prefix rules “yield some exceptions to the first-listed spellings in Webster’s New World Dictionary.”

The two entries could not be clearer: all-America and all-American. In fact, the ninth edition includes a secondary noun entry that specifically denotes that “one (as an athlete) that is voted all-American honor.”

The revered position of the AP Stylebook is of bringing consistency to journalistic prose. In this one area, however, the Stylebook lacks the clarity we so often look upon it to provide. Should the editors not wish to revise the All-America entry to include the generic form of all-America, then I would ask that at least carry the entry out to its logical conclusion with guidelines to the next levels down.

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