This morning, I noticed in an AP article a reference to Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. For all other state abbreviation uses, everyone has for 50 years been used to the standard postal 2-letter code. Why does the media not refer to Paul Ryan as R-WI?
Is this a stodgy style-guide J-school thing of generational inertia that the news media doesn’t dare to budge on? Or has Congress declared that those are the official designations of their members and they refuse to budge on them? Or are they both in a stare-down, refusing to blink for fear of alienating each other by stepping on their turf?
Understood. But the AP style guide has a separate paragraph to specifically address this particular use of state designations. Is that because the media is unwilling to change its style, or because Congress has adopted it as the official designation?
You’ve got to remember that the people on the Dope are the exception. Most people know very little about anything, and they’re not curious enough to seek out the information. We know that “AL” means Alabama, but I can absolutely guarantee you that a lot of people think it means Alaska.
With the longer abbreviations, more people know what state is meant.
The media is not a thing and is not synonymous with the Associated Press.
Most style guides are extremely conservative. And for good reason. They’ve spent decades training their staff - and their readers - what certain abbreviations mean. Changing that is a huge disruption. Writers would fail to write it the new way, editors would fail to catch the mistakes, and readers would rise up to complain that they don’t understand what is going on. It doesn’t matter how seemingly obvious the change is; change is hard. And any change to AP style affects literally hundreds of millions of people.
And what do newspapers do with all the archived material? Go back and change it? Leave it in two ways?
Style guides are there for a reason. Continuity is a big one. Changes sometimes must occur, but they are kept to a minimum. This particular change gains nothing in information. So why do it?
In ye olden days, when our founding fathers were just bubbling babes, it was common to use the first letter and the last letter of a name as an abbreviation for the name. Thus, Va for Virginia, Pa for Pennsylvania, Ms for Massachusetts, Ct for Connecticut, etc. Those abbreviations are so old (pre-Revolutionary War old) that it’s pretty much assumed everyone knows them.
States admitted to the Union later didn’t always get that treatment, because the usage changed. That’s why you don’t see Tennessee abbreviated “Te”, despite the fact that it was admitted very soon after the start of the nation. Mind you, Kentucky is Ky, which shows that there was mixed usage still.
Now I find that argument unconvincing. Sure, the two-letter codes were introduced for postal purposes. But what is there to stop the general public from using them for other purposes? There would be nothing inherently wrong with that, and I’m pretty certain the USPS would not mind.
The beauty of the USPS two-letter codes is that it boils down the 50 states plus D.C. to a mere two characters, which is the absolute minimum even theoretically necessary for uniquely identifying these areas in an alphanumeric character set with ten digits plus 26 letters. At the same time, they are mostly (though mybe not in all cases) intuitively intelligible, and they are aligned with the provinces of Canada to avoid duplication (they might even be aligned also with the states of Mexico, though I’m not sure about that). It’s quite a well-designed system, so why not use it beyond the purposes of the mail services?
We’re not talking about the general public. We’re talking about newspaper editors, who have to be worried that their readers won’t know whether AK means Alaska or Arkansas unless they happen to live in one of those states.