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Unfollow, Unfriend, Retweet: AP Stylebook Adds Another 21 Words

by Ann Handley  |  
May 20, 2011

Language is perpetually in a state of flux, says E.B White in the seminal The Elements of Style, adding, "... it is a living stream, shifting, changing, receiving new strength from a thousand tributaries, losing old forms in the backwaters of time.”

To wit, no sooner does the AP Stylebook get the whole e-mail vs. email business sorted out than it is forced to confront a whole new set of thorny issues: Is unfollow a legitimate word? Must we really embrace retweet? Is tagging confined to a children's playground game or cattle ranching? Or does it have new depth and meaning in our social world?

In the newly revised 2011 print edition of its venerable guidebook, the AP included some brand new social media and technology terms. Like unfollow and retweet. But also geolocation, geotagging, stream, unfriend, and unfollow. Fittingly, they announced the additions via Twitter.

The new entries joined a set of other terms the AP added this past March to the online edition of its Stylebook. (That's when they officially pitched a tent in the email camp, thus swiftly dashing e-mail's ambition and dreams.) They also added smartphone (no hyphen) and swapped Kolkata for the retired Calcutta. In other words, if you are planning to send an e-mail to Calcutta via your smart phone, you need to rethink things.

The social section was one of two sections newly updated, by the way. The second was the food section, which now includes something called huitlacoche.

Apparently it's a fungus that grows on corn. With a smoky-sweet flavor, it's considered a delicacy of Mexican cuisine. But all I could think of was the discussion in the test kitchen: "You taste it!" "No---you!"

Here are the new words added to the social media guidelines section.

check in (v.), check-in (n. and adj.)
Action associated with location-based social networking tools.

To get information from another server or computer.

end user (n.), end-user (adj.)
A phrase commonly referred to by technology developers when imagining the audience for an application, software, or hardware. End-user experience.

A location-based service.

The association of your virtual location with your physical location. Many social networks have enabled geolocation features (Facebook Places is one example), and some are built completely around geolocation (Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt).

The act of adding geographical metadata to pieces of media or social media updates. A geotagged photo would indicate the latitude and longitude of the location the photo was taken. A geotagged tweet would also indicate latitude and longitude, or a more general location, for example, Carolina Beach, N.C.

A location-based service.

Internet-connected TV
A television set that can be connected directly to the Internet and can display Web content without going through a computer.

A touch-screen computer that can be connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi or cellular data networks. Use IPad when the word starts a sentence or headline. Use the generic tablet unless specifically referring to the iPad.

link shortener
Tools that allow users to shorten a longer URL to make it easier to share. and TinyURL are two link shorteners.

On Twitter, an @mention tags an account in a tweet someone else is publishing. It often appears in place of the actual name. Example: I refer to the @APStylebook as I edit stories.

On Twitter, an @reply is a common technique to speak to other people directly. A tweet that begins with @username can only be seen by people that follow both parties, though it can still be viewed on an individual's profile page. Example: @APStylebook I have a style question that I need help with.

social media optimization
Any of a number of methods, mostly informal, used to ensure that online content is shared on social networks, thus increasing click-through traffic to the originating website. SMO is acceptable on second reference

A method of processing and delivering media in real time over the Internet. Videos on YouTube are an example of streaming content, as are many on-demand services like Netflix and Hulu.

tablet computer
A touch-screen computer that can be connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi or cellular data networks.

To identify someone or something in a post someone else is publishing. Photos are often tagged to identify people and objects in them.

A blogging platform.

To remove an account from the list of accounts that populate a feed, usually on Twitter. Note that unfollowing on Twitter is a one-way action: I may unfollow you, but you may continue to follow me.

user interface
The features of a device, program or website that enable control by a human. UI is acceptable on second reference.

Wireless Application Protocol. A standard that allows users to access information on mobile devices. Sometimes referred to as a WAP-optimized website, or a WAP browser. WAP is acceptable on second reference.

* * * * *
So what would you say? Are these words you would have included in your own Stylebook? Are there others?

Thanks to our own Jo Roberts for the blog fodder!

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Ann Handley is chief content officer of MarketingProfs, author of Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Ridiculously Good Content, and co-author of the best-selling book on content marketing, Content Rules. Ann co-founded, one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary.

Twitter: @MarketingProfs and @AnnHandley.

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  • by Elaine Fogel Fri May 20, 2011 via blog

    The AP Stylebook has been the bible of the PR industry for eons. (In Canada, it's the Canadian Press Stylebook.) I'm happy to see that they've added these new social media terms, albeit a bit late out of the gate. I hope they continue to catch up and add all the new words in this online space.

    There are still a couple of existing AP terms that I dislike and hope they change one day. Fund-raising is a nuisance and should be 'fundraising.' And non-profit should change to 'nonprofit.' Are you listening AP? :)

  • by Kathy Sacks Fri May 20, 2011 via blog

    When, oh when, will they lowercase "Internet" already?! It's time for that.
    (Great timely post Anne.)

  • by S Fri May 20, 2011 via blog

    You have a grammatical error in your opening sentence: "Language is perpetually in a state of flux, says E.B White says in..."

  • by Ann Handley Sat May 21, 2011 via blog

    Agree on "fundraising" and "nonprofit," Elaine! Thanks for chiming in.

  • by Bowen Agency Sun May 22, 2011 via blog

    I welcome these new words and others that are soon to follow. These terms are already widely accepted and used by the public even if they are not part of any stylebook.

  • by Veronica Maria Jarski Sun May 22, 2011 via blog


    Just checking to see if folks were paying attention ... ;-)

    Fixed it. Thanks. Good catch!

  • by Ann Handley Mon May 23, 2011 via blog

    Thanks, Kathy. I agree - it's akin to capitalizing "telephone."

  • by Ann Handley Mon May 23, 2011 via blog

    Fixed. Thanks, S (and Veronica!)

  • by IntelliSites Web Design Mon May 23, 2011 via blog

    Most of these words have made their way into our daily use, so I suppose they should be formally acknowledged somehwere. It's funny that a "check in" is no longer just a verb!

  • by Merennulli Tue May 24, 2011 via blog

    They still stumble on ones like "tablet computer". It's still a tablet computer even if you can't connect to any network, it's just rare to find one without that feature. Something tells me these were the result of an "Umm, what do you think it means?" session.

  • by Miss Wed Apr 25, 2012 via blog

    They also added the word hopefully -- didn't even realize that wasn't allowed before!

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