Monthly Archives: May 2023

I recently discovered Glazunov. 

Discoveries are what keeps life interesting. Some are life-changing, like when you first discover the opposite sex, or late in life encounter the music of Bruckner. Others are just a pleasure you hadn’t known the universe afforded, such as chipotle chiles or books by David Sedaris. 

Glazunov is one of the latter. I don’t want to make too big a case for him, but his music is effortless enjoyment. 

Alexander Glazunov was a Russian composer, born in 1865, the same year as Sibelius and five years after Mahler. He grew up in a Russian musical world split between nationalists and internationalists. On one side, you had “the Mighty Handful,” of largely self-taught composers, such as Glinka, Borodin, Balakirev, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov (the last distinctly well-trained), all of whom wanted to create a genuinely Russian brand of music. On the other side were Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein and others, who looked to Germany and western Europe for their influence. It was isolationism vs. assimilation. 

Glazunov, born into this world, was a prodigy and he was taken on as a student by Rimsky-Korsakov when little Alexander was still a high school student. “His musical development progressed not by the day, but literally by the hour,” Rimsky-Korsakov wrote. Young Glazunov excelled in counterpoint, harmony, orchestration and large-scale form. It seemed he could do anything. 

His first symphony was performed when he was just 16, and was a huge success — the audience was astonished when the composer came onstage to accept their applause and turned out to be a kid in his school uniform. It was unofficially titled, “The Slavic Symphony,” for its use of Russian and Russian-style melodies, and it would have seemed as if the young composer was going to launch a new generation of nationalist composers. (To put the symphony in context, when it was written, Tchaikovsky had only written four of his six symphonies.) It joins Bizet’s Symphony in C and Shostakovich’s First Symphony as prodigies of teenage composers. 

Glazunov as student, young man, middle aged and old

But Glazunov’s second symphony, written only five years later, was “dedicated to Franz Liszt,” and clearly showed Glazunov gazing westward to more modern musical influences. 

In all, Glazunov wrote eight symphonies and part of a ninth. Every one of them is a joy to hear, full of great tunes, rich harmonies, fresh orchestration. His style is seen now as conservative and old fashioned, but while it is always familiar, it is never clichéd. He finds new ways of using the old composing tools. 

His music also never attempts to move heaven and earth, like Bruckner or later, Mahler, but rather attempts to please, to keep his listeners entertained. For this, he has sometimes been belittled and, as the 20th century progressed, largely forgotten. 

But you need to remember that most of Mozart’s output was simply meant to entertain, also, and it is a worthy goal. Glazunov’s music is a delight. Beethoven may churn our souls, but Glazzy just wanted to show us something of beauty and craftsmanship. 

That doesn’t mean all his music is major-key bouncy and empty. There is plenty of introspective substance, and the occasional disruption to remind us that the world isn’t always placid. But it is all to the end of keeping our ears interested. 

St. Petersburg Conservatory, ca. 1900

As his career developed, he became a respected member of the Russian art establishment, and eventually became head of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, where he trained many younger musicians, most importantly, Dimitri Shostakovich. His tenure was marked by a great improvement in the conservatory’s reputation and the quality of its instruction. Glazunov took his directorship seriously. 

He ran the school from 1905 to 1930, and while the instruction remained rather conservative, built on the principles of 19th century romanticism, its students entered the new century with other ideas. 

“Glazunov was ‘born in the middle,’ so to speak,” wrote critic Leo Eylar.  “He was born a generation later than the initial great Russian composers such as Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, and was born a generation before the modernist revolutionaries such as Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich.  As such, he was destined to occupy a rather difficult position in Russian music history.”

Glazunov continued writing music into the 1930s, and by then seemed like some musical dinosaur. But it is important to remember that he was 32 before Brahms died. His taste was formed before Modernism was even thought of. 

St. Petersburg

He was born in czarist Russia and lived through the Communist revolution and into the Stalinist era. He held the conservatory together during some tumultuous years, and with considerable integrity. When he was offered honors (and extra pay) by the regime, he replied asking for some firewood instead, so the students could heat their classrooms. During the privations of the Revolution and civil war, many students were near starvation and would have died but that Glazunov ensured they were given scholarships and the food allowance that came with them. 

“This was a period of terrible famine,” said Shostakovich. “The gist of the scholarship was that its possessor was able to receive some groceries. In a word, it was a question of life and death. If you’re on the list, you live. If you’re crossed off, it’s quite possible that you may die.” 

Shostakovich was on the list. 

And when an increasingly anti-Semitic government required he list the names of all the Jewish students, he sent back a message: “We don’t keep track of such things.” 

He listened carefully to his students’ music, even if he was sometimes shocked by it. He attended all of the school’s recitals. If he didn’t like something, he would listen over and over until he understood what was being attempted. This quality made the young Shostakovich love his schoolmaster. 

“After the Revolution, everything around Glazunov changed and he lived in a terrible world that he didn’t understand,” Shostakovich said. “But he thought that if he died, important work would perish. He felt responsible for the lives of hundreds of musicians, so he didn’t die himself.”

Shostakovich describes his perfect pitch, his ability to spot any mistakes in a student’s composition, like hidden “parallel fifths,” and his astounding memory. When Borodin died, leaving his opera, Prince Igor, unfinished, Glazunov reconstructed parts from memory, having heard Borodin play them on the piano years earlier. 

He understood the instruments of the orchestra. He learned to play the violin well so he could write his violin concerto. Once, visiting London, a french horn player complained that a note in the score was “unplayable.” Glazunov picked up the horn and played the note for him. 

“And Glazunov played the piano well,” said Shostakovich. “He didn’t have a real piano technique and he often played without removing his famous cigar from his right hand. Glazunov held the cigar between his third and fourth fingers. I’ve seen it myself. And yet he managed to play every note, absolutely everything, including the most difficult passages. It looked as though Glazunov’s fat fingers were melting in the keys, drowning in them.”  

On the minus side, though, Glazunov was a lifelong alcoholic, who kept a hidden bottle of hooch in his office desk, with a tube running from the desk drawer to his mouth, so he could sip while discussing music with his students. His alcoholism is sometimes blamed for the disastrous premiere of Rachmaninov’s First Symphony, which Glazunov conducted in 1887. The performance was so disastrous that Rachmaninov stopped composing for three years. 

During his life, Glazunov’s music was held in high esteem, especially in Russia. But as the 20th century began, his music was seen as more and more out-of-date. His efforts at the conservatory slowed his musical production, and by the time of his death in 1936, only his violin concerto remained in the active repertoire, helped mainly by the fact that virtuoso Jascha Heifetz played it frequently. 

Glazunov gave up active directorship of the conservatory in 1928 and left Russia. He never expressed any political concern, but it was clear that Stalinism was not going to put up with Glazunov’s independence of spirit, and so the composer moved to France, where he remained until his death. 

In all, Glazunov composed eight symphonies, with a fragment of a ninth. He also wrote several multi-movement orchestral suites, which might as well be counted among his symphonies including From the Middle Ages and The Kremlin. He composed several successful ballets that continue to be staged even in the 21st century, most famously, Raymonda and The Seasons

He was a master of orchestral color and orchestration, and handled the large forms admirably. Especially his inner movements — the slow movements and the scherzi — are memorable and moving. He was fond of unequal phrase lengths, which kept the melodies from being predictable or monotonous (a problem that often beset Robert Schumann, who too often fell into 8- or 16-bar patterns). 

Glazunov wrote a handful of concertos, among them the popular violin concerto and, as his last major composition, a concerto for alto saxophone, which is quite forward-looking for the old master. There are a pair of piano concertos and some concertante works for cello. 

But for me, his real masterpieces are his quartets. He wrote seven numbered quartets, a Suite for string quartet, and his Five Novelettes, a full-length Elegy, and a Quintet for strings. These works highlight what Glazunov was best at.  

Quartet writing after Beethoven became a problem for many subsequent composers. The importance and depth of Beethoven’s quartets, especially the dense late quartets, tended to lead later composers to approach the form with such utter seriousness that they become clogged with polyphony (ahem: Reger) and the need to keep each string player occupied all the time. There are exceptions, like the quartets of Dvorak, but even Brahms gummed up his string quartets with thickness. 

Glazunov, however, could write counterpoint with clarity and grace. Many of his quartets start with a fugal introduction, but you never get the feeling that he is writing an obligatory chunk of polyphony to prove his seriousness. Rather, his fugues flow like real music, charming and direct. 

The quartets have almost orchestral color, as Glazunov alternates timbre with changes in register, double stops, muting, harmonics, and pizzicati. You never tire of the string tone, it is always varied. 

He splits the melodic material among his players so that everyone gets a turn with the big tunes. Glazunov wrote his quartets primarily for his friends to play among themselves, and I think they must have been a joy to perform, even more than to listen to. It’s a mystery to me why they don’t show up more often on recital programs. Audiences would love them.

For his symphonies and concertos, there is an inexpensive box set on Warner Classics, conducted by Jose Serebrier that is, I think, the best currently available set. There are other versions with Vladimir Fedoseyev and the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio, in somewhat lesser sound engineering; and Naxos has its series of Glazunov’s music, with the symphonies conducted by Alexander Anissimov and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. Serebrier beats them all with sound, performance and price. 

As for the quartets, there is a complete set box with the Utrecht String Quartet that is beautifully played and recorded, on MDG. You can get them individually played by the St. Petersburg String Quartet and several by the Shostakovich Quartet. 

And, since everything — and I mean everything — is available on YouTube, you can find multiple versions of almost everything Glazunov wrote, often with the musical scores to read as the music plays. 

I am not making the case that Glazunov should be seen as some forgotten Brahms or Dvorak. His music lacks the emotional and philosophical ambition to take on the deepest meanings you find in Beethoven, Wagner or Mahler, but none of the big names can claim supremacy in terms of technical proficiency or tunefulness. Glazunov wrote music, and seen in purely musical terms, he was a great master. 

Much art and music from before the First World War fell out of favor with the rise of Modernism. Glazunov fell with them. But now that Modernism is old-fashioned, we can reappraise a good deal of work that was denigrated in the 20th century. Rachmaninov no longer has noses turned up at his music. Even academic painting from the second half of the 19th century is finding new audiences. Glazunov deserves to be among the rediscovered.

Now that it is well into spring, I like to sit in the back yard and just soak up the experience. On a chair on the patio, I can sit for a half-hour or so and just listen to what is going on around me. Often, I just close my eyes and enjoy the bird calls, the distant lawnmower, the occasional and distant roar of a passing jet high in the air. It is my form of meditation. 

It affords me great pleasure to hear all the sounds, and more, to hear them all at once, piled up in counterpoint, like so many voices in a Bach fugue. Indeed, I try with the same effort to be able to hear all the parts simultaneously. It is great training to hear the more traditional music of the concert hall. 

For, in any decent music, there are many things going on at the same time. Not only in dense Baroque counterpoint, but in all music. There is melody, harmony, rhythm, timbre, texture — to say nothing about a bass line. If you listen only for the tune, you miss so much else. 

And so, in the concert hall, I often close my eyes and concentrate on taking in all the bits. It takes some practice, but it is possible to hear multiple lines of melody at the same time. At the very basic, to hear the tune on top and the bass line at the bottom playing off one another. 

In my back yard, I enjoy the stereo effects of a cardinal squawking to my right, while a chickadee yawps to the left, while the mower sounds two blocks away and a dog barks somewhere behind me, down the hill. There is always traffic on the main road, about a quarter-mile up the hill, and the breeze shuffles the leaves on the trees that ring my yard in an aleatory rhythm that serves as bass line to the rest. The mockingbird has his repetitive medley of greatest hits. You can’t fool me. I know it is you. 

Listening to it all tells me the world is alive. It is animated and bustling, and it sings an earthy chant. 

I am reminded of John Cage’s infamous 4’33’’ — the piece where the pianist sits in front of his keyboard for that amount of time and plays nothing at all. Often seen as a hoax by those unwilling to take Cage at his word, and feeling they are being cheated, such a listener misses the point. The composer intends for his audience to actually hear the sounds of the hall — the rustling of programs, the passing truck outside, the AC unit clicking on, the throat clearing and feet shuffling — and appreciate them as a kind of music of their own.

It is one of the primary functions of art, and music included, to wake you up to the world, to see what is usually ignored, to hear what surrounds you, to feel what is churning inside. It all boils down to paying attention. 

The world is full of miraculous sound. I remember Kathy Elks, from eastern North Carolina, telling us of when she was an infant, just after World War II, and would hear the propeller sounds of an airplane too high in the sky to see, and how she always thought that buzz was “just the sound the sky makes.” 

Or Emily Dickinson’s “I heard a fly buzz when I died.” Or the “good grey poet,” Walt Whitman: “Now I will do nothing but listen,/ To accrue what I hear into this song, to let sounds contribute toward it./ I hear bravuras of birds, bustle of growing wheat, gossip of flames, clack of sticks cooking my meals…” 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in the Ancient Mariner: “A noise like of a hidden brook/ In the leafy month of June,/ That to the sleeping woods all night/ Singeth a quiet tune.” 

“Listen to them. Children of the night. What myoosik they make,” says Bela Lugosi in Dracula (1931). 

Beethoven included a quail, nightingale and cuckoo in the slow movement of his Pastoral symphony. Messiaen wrote whole symphonies built from transcribed birdcalls. Charles Ives built the sounds of his Connecticut village into his music. Rautavaara’s Concerto for birdsong and orchestra. Vivaldi imitates birds in his Spring concerto. Alan Hovhaness And God Created Great Whales, with its whalesong sounds buried in orchestral texture. 

Gustav Mahler said the symphony must embrace the world, and he included cowbells, hammer blows, distant military bands, bird calls, the memory of the postillion’s watery horn call, and even begins his first symphony with seven-octaves of unison A-naturals, almost a tinnitus of the universe — the music of the spheres — interrupted by a cuckoo in the woods. His own defective heartbeat was the opening of his final completed symphony. 

Bedrich Smetana wrote his tinnitus into his first string quartet, “From My Life,” in the form of a long-held high “E.” 

 The same world of sound that fills all this music waits outside my back door, waiting to be organized into coherence. The first step is paying attention. Engagement is the secret to unlocking the world. The ear is a gate to paradise. 

Some years ago, when I was still regularly penning verse, I wrote about this:

The Arizona Republic newsroom, ca. 1988 

For 25 years, working at the newspaper, I had a holy scripture. It was  my bible. And it was just as strict and just as puzzling as Leviticus or Deuteronomy. It told me how to spell certain words, how to punctuate, how to think. It told me, for instance, that “baby sitter” is two words, but that “baby-sitting” requires a hyphen. It told me that third-graders were not students, but instead, they were “pupils.” And that in street addresses, it was required to abbreviate “Street” as “St.” but ordered me never to shorten “Road” to “Rd.” Never. 

It was the Associated Press Stylebook, and the version that first guided my work was the 1988 edition. In it were many notable proscriptions and admonitions. I was not to spell “gray” as “grey.” Unless it was in “greyhound.” That the past tense of “dive” should be “dived” and not “dove.” That donuts didn’t exist; they were “doughnuts.” 

There could be no 12 a.m. or 12 p.m. They were “midnight” and “noon,” although which was which was entirely the problem with the “a.m.-p.m.” formulations. (Is 12 a.m. noon or midnight?) Noon is technically neither morning nor afternoon, but the non-existent mini-instant between the two. 

 “Last Tuesday” should be the “past Tuesday,” unless, of course, time ended and it really was the last one. 

These and many other formulations became second-nature to anyone working in journalism. Some of these may have changed since 1988 — usage changes and the AP takes that into account, even if ever so slowly: They are always playing catch-up. (“Ketchup,” by the way should never be “catchup” or “catsup.”)

Even a decade after retiring, I still have lodged in the noggin all these rules and prescriptions and when writing this blog, I tend naturally to notice whether I’ve put my period inside or outside the close-parenthesis, depending on whether the parenthetical remarks are inside a longer sentence, or in a separate sentence of its own. Anyone who has written for a newspaper will likely have the same grammatical Jiminy Cricket whispering in his ear to get it right. 

Yet, I grew up spelling “grey” with an “e.” And some of the rules in the stylebook seemed so arbitrary. With my Norwegian background and its Germanic language, I always favored butting words into each other rather than separating them as two words, or with a hyphen. What could be wrong with “babysitter?” It seemed natural. 

But I was disabused by my copy desk chief, who explained to me — the way a patient adult has to explain to a toddler having a tantrum — that the point of AP style was never to enforce a “correct” English style, but merely to make sure that we didn’t see on the same page one column with a “grey” and another with a “gray.” “It’s so we don’t look like idiots,” he said. It was not to choose the “right” style, but to choose a consistent one. And AP style was what newspapers everywhere agreed would be the version to provide that. 

Still, there were times that the Stylebook asked us to do patently dumb things that would, indeed, make us look like idiots. In Arizona, where I was working, Mexican food was really good — and really Mexican (not just Taco Bell) — remember this was 1988 before Mexican supplanted Italian or Chinese as the foreign cuisine of choice — and we knew the differences among the many types of chile peppers — jalapeño, chipotle, anchos, etc. — but the Associated Press was telling us we should spell the word as “chili.” We would have looked like fools to our readers, who knew better. So, our management slyly gave us permission to overrule the stylebook and spell the word as it should be. “Chile.” The AP Stylebook eventually caught up with us, and now allows “chile” to describe the capsicum peppers. 

Most recently, AP relented on “pupil” and “student,” so first-graders are permitted to be students. It is a slow process. 

Much of the stylebook does concern itself with correct grammar and proper spelling, just to make sure we writers didn’t accidentally write “discrete” when we meant “discreet,” or forget how many double letters you have in “accommodate.” But most of the important issues concern just how our newspaper would deal with the fuzziness of certain locutions. Is a minister “Rev. So-and-So” or “the Rev. So-and-So?” Can we use “CIA” in a story without having to first explain it as the Central Intelligence Agency? 

I thought that non-journalist readers might enjoy a little peek into the old stylebook for a few of my favorite choice entries, starting with the letter “A.” These are all directly from the 1988 edition of the AP Stylebook. 


A.D. Acceptable in all references for anno Domini: in the year of the Lord. Because the full phrase would read in the year of the Lord 96, the abbreviation A.D. goes before the figure for the year: A.D. 96. Do not write: The fourth century A.D. The fourth century is sufficient. If A.D. is not specified with a year, the year is presumed to be A.D. 

From addresses Spell out and capitalize First through Ninth when used as street names; use figures with two letters for 10th and above 7 Fifth Ave., 100 21st St., 600 K St. N.W. Do not abbreviate if the number is omitted: East 42nd Street, K Street Northwest.

all right (adv.) Never alright. Hyphenate only if used colloquially as a compound modifier: He is an all-right guy

ampersand (&) Use the ampersand when it is part of a company’s formal name: Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. The ampersand should not otherwise be used in place of and

ax Not axe. The verb forms: ax, axed, axing


baloney Foolish or exaggerated talk. The sausage or luncheon meat is bologna.

barbecue Not barbeque or Bar-B-Q.

brussels sprouts


collide, collision Two objects must be in motion before they can collide. An automobile cannot collide with a utility pole, for example. 

Comprise Comprise means to contain, to include all or embrace. It is best used only in the active voice, followed by a direct object: The United States comprises 50 states. The jury comprises five men and seven women. Never use comprised of

controversial An overused word; avoid it. 

crawfish Not crayfish. An exception to the Webster’s New World based on the dominant spelling in Louisiana, where it is a popular delicacy. 

cupful, cupfuls Not cupsful


decades Use Arabic figures to indicate decades of history. Use an apostrophe to indicate numerals that are left out; show plural by adding the letter s: the 1890s, the ’90s, the Gay ’90s, the 1920s, the mid-1930s

demolish, destroy Both mean to do away with something completely. Something cannot be partially demolished or destroyed. It is redundant to say totally demolished or totally destroyed

different Takes the preposition from, not than

doughnut Not donut.


engine, motor An engine develops its own power, usually through internal combustion or the pressure of air, steam or water passing over vanes attached to a wheel: an airplane engine, an automobile engine, a jet engine, a missile engine, a steam engine, a turbine engine. A motor receives power from an outside source: an electric motor, a hydraulic motor

en route Always two words. 

ensure, insure Use ensure to mean guarantee: Steps were taken to ensure accuracy. Use insure for references to insurance: The policy insures his life

even-steven Not even-stephen.


Fannie Mae See Federal National Mortgage Association.

Fannie May A trademark for a brand of candy. 

farther, further Farther refers to physical distance: He walked farther into the woods. Further refers to an extension of time or degree: She will look further into the mystery

fulsome It means disgustingly excessive. Do not use to mean lavish, profuse. 

[“F” is also home to a host of confused pairs and the stylebook makes sure we understand the usage difference between “fewer” and “less;” “figuratively” and “literally;” and “flaunt” and “flout;” and “flounder” and “founder;” and “forgo” and “forego.” It is a minefield of potential oopses.]



gamut, gantlet, gauntlet A gamut is a scale or notes of any complete range or extent. A gantlet is a flogging ordeal, literally or figuratively. A gauntlet is a glove. To throw down the gauntlet means to issue a challenge. To take up the gauntlet means to accept a challenge. 

ghetto, ghettos Do not use indiscriminately as a synonym for the sections of cities inhabited by minorities or the poor. Ghetto has a connotation that government decree has forced people to live in a certain area. In most cases, section, district, slum, area or quarter is the more accurate word. Sometimes a place name alone has connotations that make it best: Harlem, Watts.

girl Applicable until 18th birthday is reached. Use woman or young woman afterward. 

glamour One of the few our endings still used in American writing. But the adjective is glamorous.

go-go [This was the 1988 edition, after all.]

grisly, grizzly Grisly is horrifying, repugnant. Grizzly means grayish or is a short for for grizzly bear

gypsy, gypsies Capitalize references to the wandering Caucasoid people found throughout the world. Lowercase when used generically to mean one who is constantly on the move: I plan to become a gypsy. She hailed a gypsy cab.


half-mast, half-staff On ships and at naval stations ashore, flags are flown at half-mast. Elsewhere ashore, flags are flown at half-staff

hang, hanged, hung One hangs a picture, a criminal or oneself. For the past tense or the passive, use hanged when referring to executions or suicides, hung for other actions.

hangar, hanger A hangar is a building. A hanger is used for clothes. 

hurricane Capitalize hurricane when it is part of the name that weather forecasters assign to a storm: Hurricane Hazel. But use it and its — not she, her or hers — in pronoun references. And do not use the presence of a woman’s name as an excuse to attribute sexist images of women’s behavior to a storm, for example such sentences as: The fickle Hazel teased the Louisiana coast


imply, infer Writers or speakers imply in the words they use. A listener or reader infers something from the words. 

injuries They are suffered or sustained, not received

innocent Use innocent, rather than not guilty, in describing a defendant’s plea or a jury’s verdict, to guard against the word not being dropped inadvertently. 


jargon The special vocabulary and idioms of a particular class or occupational group. In general, avoid jargon. When it is appropriate in a special context, include an explanation of any words likely to be unfamiliar to most readers. See dialect

junior, senior Abbreviate as Jr. and Sr. only with full names of persons or animals. Do not precede by a comma: Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. The notation II or 2nd may be used if it is the individual’s preference. Note, however, that II and 2nd are not necessarily the equivalent of junior — they often are used by a grandson or nephew. If necessary to distinguish between father and son in second reference, use the elder Smith or the younger Smith


ketchup Not catchup or catsup

K mart No hyphen, lowercase m. Headquarters is in Troy, Mich.


lady Do not use as a synonym for woman. Lady may be used when it is a courtesy title or when a specific reference to fine manners is appropriate without patronizing overtones. 

late Do not use it to describe someone’s actions while alive. Wrong: Only the late senator opposed this bill. (He was not dead at that time.)

lectern, podium, pulpit, rostrum A speaker stands behind a lectern, on a podium or rostrum, or in the pulpit


malarkey Not malarky

May Day, mayday May Day is May 1, often observed as a festive or political holiday. Mayday is the international distress signal, from the French m’aidez, meaning “help me.”

milquetoast Not milk toast when referring to a shrinking, apologetic person. Derived from Caspar Milquetoast, a character in a comic strip by H.T. Webster. 

minus sign Use a hyphen not a dash, but use the word minus if there is any danger of confusion. Use a word, not a minus sign to indicate temperatures below zero: minus 10 or 5 below zero

mishap A minor misfortune. People are not killed in mishaps.


Negro Use black or Negro, as appropriate in the context, for both men and women. Do not use Negress

No. Use as the abbreviation for number in conjunction with a figure to indicate position or rank. No. 1 man, No. 3 choice. Do not use in street addresses, with this exception: No. 10 Downing St., the residence of Britain’s prime minister. Do not use in the names of schools: Public School 19.

non-controversial All issues are controversial. A non-controversial issue is impossible. A controversial issue is redundant. 


From obscenities, profanities, vulgarities Do not use them in stories unless they are part of direct quotations and there is a compelling reason for them. … In reporting profanity that normally would use the words damn or god, lowercase god and use the following forms: damn, damn it, goddamn it. No not, however, change the offending words to euphemisms. Do not, for example change damn it to darn it. … If a full quote that contains profanity, obscenity or vulgarity cannot be dropped but there is no compelling reason for the offensive language, replace letters of an offensive word with a hyphen. The word damn, for example, would become d – – – or – – – –

OK, OK’s, OK’ing, OKs Do not use okay

opossum The only North American marsupial. No apostrophe is needed to indicate missing letters in a phrase such as playing possum.


palate, palette, pallet Palate is the roof of the mouth. A palette is an artist’s paint board. A pallet is a bed. 

pantsuit Not pants suit

poetic license It is valid for poetry, not news or feature stories.

pom-pom, pompon Pom-pom is sometimes used to describe a rapid-firing automatic weapon. Define the word if it must be used. A pompon is a large ball of crepe paper or fluffed cloth, often waved by cheerleaders or used atop a hat. It is also a flower that appears on some varieties of chrysanthemums. 


From Prison, jail Do not use the two words interchangeably. … Prison is a generic term that may be applied to the maximum security institutions often known as penitentiaries and to the medium security facilities often called correctional institutions or reformatories. All such facilities confine people serving sentences for felonies. A jail is a facility normally used to confine people serving sentences for misdemeanors, people awaiting trial or sentencing on either felony or misdemeanor charges, and people confined for civil matters such as failure to pay alimony and other types of contempt of court. 

punctuation Think of it as a courtesy to your readers, designed to help them understand a story. Inevitably, a mandate of this scope involves gray areas. For this reason, the punctuation entries in this book refer to guidelines rather than rules. Guidelines should not be treated casually, however. 


raised, reared Only humans may be reared. Any living thing, including humans may be raised

ranges The form: $12 million to $14 million. Not: $12 to $14 million

ravage, ravish To ravage is to wreak great destruction or devastation: Union troops ravaged Atlanta. To ravish is to abduct, rape or carry away with emotion: Soldiers ravished the women. Although both words connote an element of violence, they are not interchangeable. Buildings and towns cannot be ravished

reluctant, reticent Reluctant means unwilling to act: He is reluctant to enter the primary. Reticent means unwilling to speak: The candidate’s husband is reticent

restaurateur No n. Not restauranteur


Saint John The spelling for the city in New Brunswick. To distinguish it from St. John’s, Newfoundland

San‘a It’s NOT an apostrophe in the Yemen capital’s name. It’s a reverse apostrophe, or a single opening quotation mark. 

Satan But lowercase devil and satanic

sex changes Follow these guidelines in using proper names or personal pronouns when referring to an individual who has had a sex-change operation: If the reference is to an action before the operation, use the proper name and gender of the individual at that time. If the reference is to an action after the operation, use the new proper name and gender. For example: Dr. Richard Raskind was a first-rate amateur tennis player. He won several tournaments. Ten years later, when Dr. Renee Richards applied to play in tournaments, many women players objected on the ground that she was the former Richard Raskind, who had undergone a sex-change operation. Miss Richards said she was entitled to compete as a woman

Solid South Those Southern states traditionally regarded as supporters of the Democratic Party. 

SOS The distress signal. S.O.S (no final period) is a trademark for a brand of soap pad. 

St. John’s The city in the Canadian province of Newfoundland. Not to be confused with Saint John, New Brunswick

straight-laced, strait-laced Use straight-laced for someone strict or severe in behavior or moral views. Reserve strait-laced for the notion of confinement, as in a corset. 

straitjacket Not straight-jacket.


teen, teen-ager (n.) teen-age (adj.) Do not use teen-aged

that, which, who, whom (pronouns) Use who and whom in referring to people and to animals with a  name. John Jones is the man who helped me. See the who, whom entry. Use that and which in referring to inanimate objects and to animals without a name. 

Truman, Harry S. With a period after the initial. Truman once said there was no need for the period because the S did not stand for a name. Asked in the early 1960s about his preference, he replied, “It makes no difference to me.” AP style has called for the period since that time. 

tsar Use czar


UFO, UFOs Acceptable in all references for unidentified flying object(s)

Uncle Tom A term of contempt applied to a black person, taken from the main character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” It describes the practice of kowtowing to whites to curry favor. Do not apply it to an individual. It carries potentially libelous connotations of having sold one’s convictions for money, prestige or political influence.

unique It means one of a kind. Do not describe something as rather unique or most unique

United Rubber, Cork, Linoleum and Plastic Workers of America The shortened forms of United Rubber Workers and United Rubber Workers union are acceptable in all references. Capitalize Rubber Workers in references to the union or its members. Use rubber workers, lowercase, in generic references to workers in the rubber industry. Headquarters is in Akron, Ohio. 

United States Spell out when used as a noun. Use U.S. (no space) only as an adjective.


versus Abbreviate as vs. in all uses. 

Vietnam Not Viet Nam

volatile Something which evaporates rapidly. It may or may not be explosive. 


war horse, warhorse Two words for a horse used in battle. One word for a veteran of many battles: He is a political warhorse

whereabouts Takes a singular verb: His whereabouts is a mystery.

whiskey, whiskeys Use the spelling whisky only in conjunction with Scotch


X-ray (n., v. and adj.) Use for both the photographic process and the radiation particles themselves. 

yam Botanically, yams and sweet potatoes are not related, although several varieties of moist-fleshed sweet potatoes are popularly called yams in some parts of the United States. 

youth Applicable to boys and girls from age 13 until 18th birthday. Use man or woman for individuals 18 and older. 

ZIP codes Use all-caps ZIP for Zone Improvement Program, but always lowercase the word code. Run the five digits together without a comma, and do not pt a comma between the state name and the ZIP code: New York, N.Y. 10020.