AP apologises and deletes widely mocked tweet about ‘the French’

<span>Photograph: Alex Segre/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Alex Segre/Alamy

The Associated Press Stylebook, considered one of the most reliable guides to correct use of the English language for journalists, has apologised after producing a list of terms it thought could be dehumanising that included “the French”.

The organisation tweeted advice not to use generic labels for groups of people who share a single common trait, giving as examples the poor, the mentally ill and the college-educated. It also included grouping together everyone from the European nation under the same banner.

“We did not intend to offend. Writing French people, French citizens, etc., is good. But ‘the’ terms for any people can sound dehumanizing and imply a monolith rather than diverse individuals,” the organisation said on its AP Stylebook Twitter account.

“That is why we recommend avoiding general ‘the’ labels such as the poor, the mentally ill, the wealthy, the disabled, the college-educated.

“Instead, use wording such as people with mental illnesses or wealthy people. Use these descriptions only when clearly relevant and that relevance is made clear in the story. Be specific when possible and relevant, such as people with incomes below the poverty line.”

But the agency was mocked after posting the original guidance on its Twitter account. The French embassy in the US joked that it should possibly change its name to the Embassy of Frenchness. Its spokesperson Pascal Confavreux told the New York Times: “We just wondered what the alternative to ‘the French’ would be. I mean, really.”

The writer Sarah Haider said: “Nothing as dehumanizing as being considered one of the French. Rather, such individuals should be thought of as ‘suffering from Frenchness’ and deserve our compassion and prayers.”

Ian Bremmer, a political scientist, suggested “people experiencing Frenchness” as an alternative, while the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote: “To say ‘the French’ is to dehumanize, er, the French? Really? I wish we on the left could spend less time fussing over language and more time trying to actually solve problems.”

And the Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle joked: “The people experiencing journalism at the AP have their work cut out for them.”

Lauren Easton, the vice-president of AP corporate communications, told the French newspaper Le Monde: “The reference to ‘the French’ as well as the reference to ‘the college educated’ is an effort to show that labels shouldn’t be used for anyone, whether they are traditionally or stereotypically viewed as positive, negative or neutral.”