Have yourself a stylin’ little Christmas

Here in the newsroom we’re armed and ready for the holiday season: We’ve just been issued the official Associated Press Holiday Style Guide, a list of seasonal words, phrases and definitions to help ensure correct usage in our holiday news coverage.

Readers may not know or care that “Christmastime” is supposed to be one word rather than two, or that the numeral in the title of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is supposed to be spelled out.

These things matter in newsrooms, though, because… well, because most journalists care rather intensely about words and language and dislike linguistic anarchy. In any case, it’s inevitable that when you’re writing about the holidays, questions arise about usage: Do you capitalize North Pole when you’re referring to the mythical home of Santa Claus? (Yes, you do.) What’s the right way to spell “Auld Lang Syne”?

The AP Stylebook (official title, uppercase, all one word) offers the final word in correctness. Many large publishing organizations have their own stylebook (lowercase, not part of a title, still all one word) and some slight variations in usage, but in most of the news industry the AP Stylebook reigns supreme.

Thanks to the Holiday Style Guide, we have guidance during the upcoming weeks on wordmeister issues such as:

- Champagne: Capitalize sparkling wine from the French region uncorked to celebrate New Year’s.

- Christmas Eve, Christmas Day: Capitalize Dec. 24 and 25 Christian feast marking the birth of Jesus.

- Christmas tree: Lowercase tree and other seasonal terms with Christmas: card, wreath, carol, etc. Exception: National Christmas Tree.

- Kriss Kringle: Not Kris. Derived from the German word, Christkindl, or baby Jesus.

- Nativity scene: Only the first word is capitalized.

- yule: Old English name for Christmas season; yuletide is also lowercase.

The list contained a few surprises for me. I always thought it was “Kris Kringle” and that the word “yule” was capitalized. I stand corrected and will get it right from now on.

What’s considered correct is an evolving concept, of course. The English language is extraordinarily dynamic and the AP Stylebook is constantly being updated to reflect changes in usage, particularly in technology, slang and other areas. For example, “Web site” used to be the preferred terminology; it has now been simplified to “website.” One of the more recent terms added to the Holiday Style Guide is “regifting,” defined as “passing along an unwanted present to someone else.”

Even if you’re not a grammar nerd, this is good stuff to know. Now we can all be assured of having a proper and correct merry Christmas – that’s lowercase “merry”, uppercase “Christmas” and never, ever abbreviated as “Xmas.”

- Anne Polta, staff writer

One thought on “Have yourself a stylin’ little Christmas

  1. Yule was a pre-Christian pagan festival celebrated around the time of the winter solstice by Germanic tribes. Like many of the decorations and traditions associated with Christmas, it pre-dates Christianity, and was only borrowed later in order to convert people.

    Journalists don’t need a style manual. They need a history book.

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