The Associated Press recently released the latest updates to their style guide, the go-to reference that’s intended to teach all of us about the preferred language we’re supposed to use when writing professionally. These updates have become increasingly problematic in recent years because rather than focusing on the correct technical twists and turns of the English language and adopting new words as they enter our language, the Powers that Be in control of the style guide have developed an increasingly liberal slant in their work. Political correctness is too often given precedence over the proper mechanics of grammar. (The use of the “singular they” to avoid offending transgender people is a prime example.)
Sure enough, there are more examples of this trend in the latest update. John Hirschauer at National Review picks a few of them apart, including the announcement that we’re no longer supposed to say “mistress” when referring to a woman engaged in a sexual relationship with another woman’s husband. And the reason they offer is straight out of the progressive playbook.
Another change in the guidelines concerns press coverage of extramarital affairs. The AP enjoins writers to avoid using the “archaic and sexist term ‘mistress,’” preferring instead “an alternative like companion or lover.”
Perhaps this change should not bother me – it’s only the AP stylebook — but it does. The status quo apparently vexed the AP enough to impel the change in the first place. I suspect that the AP and I are both motivated by the sense that what one calls a woman who participates in a protracted extramarital affair matters, and that it has downstream effects in the culture. There is, after all, a great chasm between “mistress” and “companion” in terms of what they imply about the woman engaged in the affair. The former has lurid and scandalous connotations, while the latter might describe a beloved household pet. It is worth examining whether “mistress” is a “sexist” and “archaic” term, as the AP insists.
As Hirschauer points out, if the AP felt a need to make a change because of gender issues, that might be understandable. The word only applies to the female involved in a heterosexual extramarital affair and there isn’t really a male equivalent in common use today. He suggests bringing back either “philanderer” or “lecher.” While these are both perfectly serviceable words, neither of them is truly specific enough. Philanderers can be either male or female. A lecher is traditionally deemed to be a male, but the meaning goes far beyond the limits of infidelity, suggesting a man with excessive or offensive sexual desires in general.
We could consider adulterer as an alternative but, again, that word is traditionally assigned to both male and female cheaters, while “adultress” is reserved just for the ladies. Perhaps we’re seeing a pattern here.
But that’s not the reason the AP is giving for wanting to strike “mistress” from the common parlance. They’re complaining that the word is “archaic and sexist.” By going on to preposterously suggest we say “companion” instead, they are clearly sending a signal that cheating on your spouse shouldn’t be looked upon as anything shameful or inherently wrong, but rather just another “lifestyle choice.”
I’m with Hirschauer on this one. The word “mistress” has a negative connotation because it’s talking about something that the rest of society is supposed to frown upon. I’m not talking about people with “open marriages” who freely consent to have their partner see other people romantically. They aren’t being cheated on because they’re not being deceived. The basic concept of adultery involves sneaking around and trying to get away with the violation of your vows without your spouse becoming the wiser. And that’s not an admirable act in any sense of any word.
There are other odd changes in the style guide pointed out at National Review. They would like to do away with the word “manhunt” when describing the pursuit of a wanted suspect or criminal by law enforcement. We’re told that the new word to use for this should be “search.” This is more balderdash. The word “search” is generic and could apply to anything as trivial as trying to find your keys in the morning. “Manhunt” works because “womanhunt” would sound stupid and probably carry even more sexist connotations than the current usage. We already know that “manhunt” can apply to female suspects as well.
None of these changes have anything to do with the proper use of the English language. It’s all simply political correctness run amuck. Fortunately, the AP can’t enforce their decrees on the rest of us… at least not yet. But I have zero intention of following these dictates.