Monday, February 23, 2009

Idaho -- Alaska!

Occasionally we old-fashioned newspaper people are asked what the heck the deal is with this Calif., Fla., Mich. business. Why don't we use the modern, streamlined, newfangled state abbreviations provided to us by the U.S. Postal Service?

I usually don't like to answer a question with a question, but -- quick -- what's MI? Minnesota? Wrong. What's AK? Arkansas? Wrong! What's MS? Massachusetts? Wrong!

Yeah, I know you didn't get any of those wrong, because my readers are sharper than that, but trust me: Ordinary people outside of Arkansas and Alaska (I'll let you fill in your own redundancy joke) would bat maybe .600 on the AK question. And just as AK could be Alaska or Arkansas, AL could be Alabama or Alaska; MA could be Massachusetts or Maryland; MI could be Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi or Missouri; MO could be Missouri or Montana; MS could be Mississippi or Missouri; and NE could be Nebraska or Nevada. I think that about covers it. Now, how many of the standard old-fashioned abbreviations used in Associated Press style run the risk of confusing people? Miss. and Mo. are the only ones that come to mind.

We'd love the ink and the newsprint savings that the two-letter abbrevs. would provide, but, to the degree that these style decisions are more than just arbitrary rulings for the sake of consistency, clarity is Job One.