Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Minor Musing About The AP Stylebook And Labels

The AP Stylebook, the bible of newspaper folk everywhere, has decreed that the term "illegal immigrant" should no longer be used:
The Stylebook no longer sanctions the term “illegal immigrant” or the use of “illegal” to describe a person. Instead, it tells users that “illegal” should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally.
Big Boy Blogger Kevin Drum grouses a bit. His headline makes a valid point: "'Illegal Immigrant' Is Now Out, But AP Doesn't Tell Us What's In." He then goes on to bemoan the loss of a label:
AP apparently now feels that there's no acceptable way to refer to people who are in the country illegally. Neither "undocumented immigrant" nor "unauthorized immigrant," is acceptable, and neither is anything else. Labels are flatly not allowed, despite the fact that we label people all the time. Kevin Drum is a blogger. Barack Obama is a politician. Etc.
As a grammar teacher, I am happy that AP has decreed that illegal describe an action rather than a person. The distinction seems intuitive.  I am not unsympathetic to Drum's complaint; some term needs to replace "illegal immigrant." Further, labels are sometimes necessary. I am not just a teacher. I am an English teacher.

For many, however, the simple label frequently seems insufficient. They must create a "them" to demonize. These folks seem unsatisfied asserting Barack Obama is a Democratic politician. They want to be more forceful: Barack Obama is the anti-Christ. Since that sentiment might be seen as too dramatic, they settle for labels: Barack Obama is a Marxist Kenyan anti-colonialist politician. For local examples, read any recent post here.

It seems that the only positive labels are the ones that one gives to one's self:

I don't know if any stylebook has rules for that phrasing.

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