The AP Stylebook’s ‘quiet killing’ of the term ‘homophobia’

The AP Stylebook’s ‘quiet killing’ of the term ‘homophobia’

ap stylebook coverMuch was made last week of the announcement by the Associated Press that it would be purging the terms illegal immigrant and Islamism from its Stylebook. Every major and most minor news sources carried the story, and a causal analysis via Google suggests that most mainstream outlets have complied with AP’s dictum. Other than in late-arriving reports on the decommissioning of the terms, the rest, as the man said, “is silence.”

Not so for two other terms stricken from the AP Stylebook last November with comparatively little fanfare. The expurgated terms, moreover — homophobia and Islamophobia — are still in wide use.

The AP’s reasons for deep-sixing these terms is that they misuse phobia, which the revised Stylebook advises is “an irrational, uncontrollable fear, often a form of mental illness” that should not be used “in political or social contexts.”

“We want to be precise and accurate and neutral in our phrasing,” AP Deputy Standards Editor Dave Minthorn told Politico’s Dylan Byers, adding:

[A] phobia is a psychiatric or medical term for a severe mental disorder. Those terms have been used quite a bit in the past, and we don’t feel that’s quite accurate.

Minthorn stops short of addressing the homo- part of homophobia, but it too is inaccurate. Homo- is a Greek combining form meaning “the same.” Homophobia, thus, means “fear of the same,” which couldn’t be further from the intended meaning of “anti-gay,” which the AP now favors.

In the meantime, how thoroughly have major news organizations embraced the AP’s ruling on homophobia? Here are some news items selected at random. On April 4, The Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky headlined an article “Mike Rice, Macho Men, and Homophobia.” If that’s not mainstream enough for you, try this headline from New York’s Daily News on April 7: “Snoop Lion: Frank Ocean coming out doesn’t change rap music homophobia.” Or this title from The Guardian, UK, published on April 5: “Head of Brazil’s equality body accused of homophobia and racism.”

The New York Times maintains its own Manual of Style and Usage, so it can’t be faulted for titling an article German Soccer Fans Fight Homophobia five days ago, though around the same time the Times’s public editor wrote that “the newspaper of record” is considering following AP’s lead on the use of the term illegal immigrant.

All of the above appearances of the purged term homophobia, mind you, are in headlines, not obscure references buried deep in an article that somehow escaped the copy editor’s attention. It is too early to tell whether the mainstream media will be as stylistically defiant in their application of illegal immigrant, but smart money says they won’t.

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Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy has written for The Blaze, HotAir, NewsBusters, Weasel Zippers, Conservative Firing Line, RedCounty, and New York’s Daily News. He has one published novel, Hot Rain, (G. P. Putnam’s Sons), and has been a guest on Radio Vice Online with Jim Vicevich, The Alana Burke Show, Smart Life with Dr. Gina, and The George Espenlaub Show.

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