Minthorn’s mission is the maintenance of English grammar, the policing of punctuation and the enforcement of a consistent written style for one of the world’s largest news organizations. As the Associated Press’s deputy standards editor, he’s the news wire’s word nerd, the go-to guy for settling all manner of niggling usage questions. Is it “e-mail” or “email”? “Smart phone” or “smartphone”? “Tea Party” or “tea party”? According to Dave Minthorn, it should be the latter in each case.
His distilled wisdom is the AP Stylebook, the bible for correspondents and editors and a best-selling volume in its own right for the past three decades. Minthorn and two colleagues, Darrell Christian and Sally Jacobsen, are the Stylebook’s editors. They spend all year arguing about what to include, updating the book to take account of new words and phrases such as “geotagging,” “unfollow,” and “Internet-connected TV.”
For the past four years, Minthorn has also been the author of AP’s “Ask the Editor” feature, in which perplexed writers from all walks of life (and all corners of the globe) seek his counsel on such pressing matters as the placement of commas and the appropriate use of an apostrophe. Since taking over the column from its founder, Norm Goldstein, Minthorn has answered more than 8,000 of these queries, offering brief but definitive responses to questions such as:
●“What is the plural of meatloaf? Meatloafs? Meatloaves? It isn’t in the dictionary.” Minthorn replied that AP’s style is “meatloaves,” noting that this “makes sense because the dictionary lists loaves as the plural of loaf, the food.”
●“Is it redundant to call the language Mandarin Chinese? Nobody uses the term Cantonese Chinese.” Mandarin is sufficient, Minthorn decreed.
●“Is the short form of microphone mic or mike?” The informal form of microphone is “mic,” he responded. (The Washington Post, which has its own word-usage and style committee, disagrees, sticking with “mike,” no matter what the manufacturers print on your electronic devices.)
In fact, Minthorn is frequently asked how bulleted items, like those above, should be presented in a letter or formal presentation. (We’re not sure we did it right.)
“I feel a little bit of an obligation to answer as many of these questions as I can,” says the mild-mannered Minthorn. “I don’t get to all of them. But I try my best. People really want to know.”
“We get hundreds of suggestions a year [for changes]. We adopt the ones that we think have reached a critical mass.”
All told, Minthorn, who is 69, exerts a subtle yet profound influence on the way words appear online and in print. His judgments guide AP’s dispatches, which is no small thing. The New York-based news service, a nonprofit cooperative owned by member news organizations, has 3,700 employees in 300 bureaus around the world. On a given day, it claims, its work is seen by half the world’s population. Because of this ubiquity, Minthorn’s Rules of Order are about as close to a universal code of English usage as there can be.