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Ask the Editor provides answers, clarification and guidance on style issues that go beyond the pages of the AP Stylebook. Before posing a question to AP editor David Minthorn, search the accompanying style archives for your topic. With thousands of questions and answers on file, your topic has very likely been covered. For typical style questions and responses, visit Ask the Editor FAQ.

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Ask the Editor questions from the past week:

Q. Is it okay to say "came out" when referring to when someone became openly gay? – from Durham, N.C. on Tue, May 03, 2016

A. Yes.

Q. 7-digit dialing or seven digit dialing? – from Spokane, Wash. on Tue, May 03, 2016

A. It's seven-digit dialing.

Q. What is our style regarding bulleted lists within a story? I was told some years back to have a semicolon at the end of each item, and the word "and" at the end of the next-to-last item, like this: --blah; --blah; and --blah. Is that right? Or should each item have no punctuation at the end? Because I've seen that on our wire service, also. – from Houston, Texas on Tue, May 03, 2016

A. See the IN LISTS section of the "dashes" entry for AP's position on the format.

Q. Is it OK to use AI as first reference for artificial intelligence? – from New York on Tue, May 03, 2016

A. Within a news story, generally spell out the term on first reference, then use the abbreviation in follow-ups.

Q. Is AP ever going to stop hyphenating African American as a noun (and, by extension, other Americans)? Chicago Manual of Style and the American Psychological Association stopped hyphenating Americans decades ago. As nouns, no chance of misreading. – from New York on Tue, May 03, 2016

A. AP follows the dictionary's first spelling for African-American and other dual heritage references.

Q. What is the AP's guideline on the correct article usage before titles: John Doe IS director of.. or John Doe IS THE director of... Thanks in advance! – from San Francisco on Tue, May 03, 2016

A. Use of the definite article underlines a particular or specific position or title.

Q. When indicating a start and end time that are both in the afternoon or morning, is it necessary to include p.m. or a.m. with both start and end time. E.g., 4 p.m. - 7 p.m., vs. 4 - 7 p.m. – from Minneapolis on Tue, May 03, 2016

A. It's 4-7 p.m. with a hyphen, per example in the "times" entry.

Q. Which is preferred, got, received or was given? The student got a seven-day suspension from school. or the student received (or was given) a seven-day suspension from school? – from St. Louis, Mo. on Tue, May 03, 2016

A. Was given seems more appropriate in this situation.

Q. Should stock market industry names by capitalized? For example: Bob Dylan%uFFFFs famous refrain is an apt description of the April stock market, which was led by the four weakest sectors of the past year %uFFFF Energy, Financials, Materials, and Health Care. – on Tue, May 03, 2016

A. Within a new story, lowercase the market sector references.

Q. Is it paddlesports or paddle sports? In searching the Ask the Editor submissions, this was a reply in 2008: A. probably two words, though it shows both ways on the Web. I am hopeful that something more definitive has come out since then. – from Lexington, Ky. on Tue, May 03, 2016

A. The two-word spelling is more widely used in AP stories. However, some businesses do use the one-word spelling, based on news archive checks.

Q. What is the appropriate way to delineate approximate times? For example, is "approximately 12:30 p.m." preferred over "about 12:30 p.m." or "near 12:30 p.m."? – from ,Memphis, Tenn. on Tue, May 03, 2016

A. About, around or at approximately are typical formulations.

Q. Would "food vendor" be hyphenated in the following uses? Thanks! Food vendor sign-up The food vendor selection process has changed. There will be no more waiting in line for hours to get a spot as a bazaar vendor. – from AE, AP on Tue, May 03, 2016

A. No hyphen in food vendor.

Q. In the paragraph below, what verb tense is "has alleged?" Can it be present perfect? (This is from a lawyer and the tense makes a difference in the brief.) – from Dallas on Mon, May 02, 2016

A. Yes, present perfect tense.

Q. Exactly as it is written below, can the phrase "has alleged" be correctly interpreted to include the present and future tense? (This is the phrase: "the plaintiff has alleged [or alleges or will allege]. "The contemporaneous filing requirement of Subsection (a) shall not apply to any case in which the period of limitation will expire within 10 days of the date of filing and, because of such time constraints, the plaintiff has alleged that an affidavit of a third-party licensed architect, licensed professional engineer, registered landscape architect, or registered professional land surveyor could not be prepared. In such cases, the plaintiff shall have 30 days after the filing of the complaint to supplement the pleadings with the affidavit. The trial court may, on motion, after hearing and for good cause, extend such time as it shall determine justice requires." The Texas Code Construction Act states that "[w]ords in the present tense include the future tense." Tex. Gov. Code %uFFFF 311.012(a). – from Dallas on Mon, May 02, 2016

A. Check with your legal counsel on that point.

Q. Increasing numbers of publications are using "woman" and "women" as an adjective, including the New York Times. Does AP have plans to update this, given the current usage? – from San Francisco on Mon, May 02, 2016

A. The Stylebook's position is covered in the "female" and "woman, women" entries.

Q. Would it be Mariana's Trench or Mariana Trench? – from Delray Beach, Fla. on Mon, May 02, 2016

A. Deferring to the dictionary's primary spelling without an apostrophe: Marianas Trench.

Q. Does the "use separate words in the phrase, all year long" still apply? – from Pensacola, Fla. on Mon, May 02, 2016

A. Yes.

Q. Should an apostrophe s ('s) be added at the end of possessive acronyms - such as LZA's, LZAM's, etc.? – from Wickliffe, Ohio on Mon, May 02, 2016

A. Yes, but the first looks more like an abbreviation. See the "abbreviations and acronyms" entry for details.

Q. Capitalize "conference room" since it's a specifically designated room? – from Paso Robles, Calif. on Mon, May 02, 2016

A. As a generic term, it would be lowercase in a news story.

Q. Is the game called "tug of war" or "tug-of-war"? – from , Providence, R.I. on Mon, May 02, 2016

A. Deferring to the dictionary's primary spelling: tug of war.

Q. I was wondering if committeeman and committeewoman should be capitalized on their own, and in an instance like this, "TK won her bid to become a Republican National Committeewoman..." Thanks! – from Brooklyn, N.Y. on Mon, May 02, 2016

A. No. Titles are capitalized only when directly preceding a full name. Republican, however, is capped in reference to the U.S. political party.

Q. Would you put quotation marks around a podcast title? Example: GE's "The Message" podcast. – from New York on Fri, Apr 29, 2016

A. Yes.

Q. I was on a research firm's website today and saw this: "We follow the AP Style Guide and our editorial staff proofreads every submission for spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors." Has AP changed its policy on the serial comma, or is this site's editorial staff not quite up to snuff? – from Minneapolis , Minn. on Fri, Apr 29, 2016

A. The Stylebook's "comma" guidance hasn't changed: No comma before the last item in a simple series, such as the example you cite.

Q. When including a data table how should a number range be displayed? For example one category is >$5k - – from Atlanta on Fri, Apr 29, 2016

A. $5,000 to $5 million

Q. When posting an event that spans the current year and the following year, how should it be be displayed as it is stated to not show the current year? Option: December 31-January 1, 2017 OR December 31,2016-January 1, 2017 Is it acceptable to display the current year to provide more clarity to the readers? – from Raleigh, N.C. on Thu, Apr 28, 2016

A. This should be clear: Dec. 31-Jan. 1, 2017

Q. Is the "D" in "American Dream" capitalized? – from New York on Thu, Apr 28, 2016

A. Lowercase dream in AP usage, in line with the dictionary's first spelling of American dream.

Q. Is "to" capitalized in a headline when it is used as a verb (i.e., part of an infinitive, such as "to vote")? – from Houston on Thu, Apr 28, 2016

A. Yes, for an all-caps headline style. However, AP caps only the first word and proper nouns in a headline, so "to vote" would be lowercase within the headline.

Q. Would you use Big Data or big data? Thanks – from , on Thu, Apr 28, 2016

A. Lowercase big data.

Q. When attributing a quote, is it correct to say 'said John Doe' or 'says John Doe'? – from Charlotte, N.C. on Thu, Apr 28, 2016

A. Yes, it's a variation of the attribution formulation that normally places the verb after the name: .... John Doe said.

Q. I keep seeing people hyphenate native, i.e., Florida-native Joe Smith. I haven't seen it until recently, and it's being done by young reporters fresh out of college. I wouldn't hyphenate it, never have, but wanted to make sure I didn't miss a change. Thanks! – from Harrisonburg, Va. on Wed, Apr 27, 2016

A. No hyphen in Florida native Joe Smith.

Q. In the more than, over entry, it says both are acceptable in terms of numerical value. Are they both acceptable in terms of time as well? Example: She has been a lawyer for over six years. – from Camarillo, Calif. on Wed, Apr 27, 2016

A. Yes.

Q. Dear Editor, why is 'millennials' lower case but Generation Y is set in upper case? Would it be correct to upper case when using this term to a specific group? Thanks – from Irving, Texas on Wed, Apr 27, 2016

A. We defer to the dictionary on the lowercase spelling. Same for capitalization of the G-terms.

Q. Can use you CAT in a headline instead of Caterpillar? – from Lisle, Ill. on Wed, Apr 27, 2016

A. Yes, assuming the CAT acronym is known to your audience.

Q. Hello, Can you tell me, is it Planet Earth? or planet Earth? I can't find a trustworthy reference anywhere. Thanks! – from Loveland, Colo. on Wed, Apr 27, 2016

A. Lowercase p within a sentence: November was a hot month for planet Earth.

Q. Is there a rule against using an apostrophe with a registration mark aka R ball? Example: Ram Promaster City%uFFFFs%uFFFF – from Detroit on Wed, Apr 27, 2016

A. AP doesn't use the registration mark. However, it wouldn't be reproduced with an apostrophe.

Q. I see "academe" used as a substitute for "academia." Which does AP prefer? – from New York on Wed, Apr 27, 2016

A. Yes, they are synonyms for the academic world in dictionary definitions. In AP stories, academia is used more frequently than academe.

Q. Hi, Would it be B or B-plus? – from New York on Wed, Apr 27, 2016

A. Generally use B-plus because the sign may not transmit through all computer systems.

Q. When alphabetizing according to last name, and the name begins with "Van" or "de," for instance, "Jon de Maa Zubil" or "Nate De Synegub," how should the name be ordered? In the examples given, would the first name be ordered by the letter "d" or "M" or "Z"? And for the second name, would it be ordered by the letter "d" or "s"? For a name like "Tim Van Winkle," should the name be alphabetized by the letter "v" or "w"? Thank you! – from Virginia Beach, Va. on Wed, Apr 27, 2016

A. Such listings are generally are alphabetized by the first element of the surname as spelled by the family, followed by the given name: de Maa Zubil, Jon; Van Winkle, Tim

Q. Is there any reason you don't curate old Ask the Editor questions that have been superseded and now contain wrong information, i.e. this one about capitalization for bloody mary, which AP says it lower case? Q. Editor: Would you cap these cocktails: mojito, kamikaze, pomtini? Generally, are cocktails capped? My sense is no, but some may be exceptions. As you know, there is no "cocktail" entry in the stylebook. Many thanks. from sausalito, Calif. on Oct 19, 2010 A. Cocktail names are generally lowercase, with some exceptions for clarity: Old Fashioned, Bloody Mary, Manhattan. Those you list look right lowercase. – from Chicago on Wed, Apr 27, 2016

A. Working on that. If you see others, let me know. Meanwhile, the current Stylebook listing is authoritative; otherwise, use the most recent Q&A.

Q. I know the word 'staff' is generally a collective noun taking singular verb and pronoun, but we sometimes refer to events where more than one staff group attends or need to act. For example, "The toolbox includes talking points for tribal child support directors to use when speaking to tribal council and finance staff." I understand the sentence is awkward, but should it be written as 'staffs' since we're talking about staff in two different offices? – from Washington on Wed, Apr 27, 2016

A. Yes, the dictionary lists staffs as the plural noun for personnel.

Q. I saw the phrase "mass murder" recently used in a story to describe a killing of four individuals all from the same family in their own home. Is this an appropriate use of "mass murder"? – from Santa Barbara, Calif. on Wed, Apr 27, 2016

A. By the "homicide, murder, manslaughter" entry, AP advises against using the term until charges are filed or a court reaches a verdict. However, authorities sometimes use the term, so a news story might have it in a direct quote.

Q. How many times should you use a registration mark in copy? Only the first reference? (I have been searching for the answer on your site. Even found a refernce to it that was not at all helpful. Why not answer the question instead of sending us on another lenghty search? Thanks!) "Q. How many times must a registration mark be used? I always thought the brand should be trademarked on first use only unless the piece was long, and then it should be reintroduced at chapter breaks. %u2013 from Andover, MN on Fri, Nov 20, 2009 A. See response of Sept. 16 in "other terminology" area of this archive." – from Parker, Pa. on Wed, Apr 27, 2016

A. OK, I'll repeat yet again. AP doesn't use the registration or registry mark because it won't transmit through all computer systems. See the "trademark" and "brand names" entries for additional guidance.

Q. I see this Q and A to first reference. what about second reference? Upper or lower case? Q. OK, I checked the Stylebook and Ask-the-Editor Archive and don't see "Superfund." Uppercase? Acceptable on first reference? from Frankfort, Ky. on Oct 04, 2011 A. In AP stories, federal Superfund site or federal Superfund list on first reference, meaning pollution cleanup is largely covered by federal funds. – from St. Louis, Mo. on Wed, Apr 27, 2016

A. On second reference, the site or the Superfund site.

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