One would think that in the pursuit of journalistic truth, specificity would be the highest priority of formatting. One would think that when spelling words, the thoughts and feelings of those in the profession would matter to the people writing about them.
And yet, week after week I write articles that involve my chosen field and am repeatedly told that I misspelled the name of my major.
My battle here is not with anyone at UCCS, but with the almighty organization that gets to make all the rules: the mysterious and powerful Associated Press. It is this shadowy organization that gets to sit in a dark room in New York probably (I don’t care) and cackle over the rules they will make us write by next. They took the oxford comma from me, and I still haven’t forgiven them.
Since I have been involved in the performing arts, I have been told that “theatre” is the profession and “theater” is the building in which the profession happens. For instance, you go to the theater to see “Hamlet,” but the people performing in “Hamlet” are theatre professionals. Fairly simple, yes?
It could be argued that picking one word to apply to both is simpler and easier for readers to process, especially readers who aren’t actively part of the field. It could also be pointed out that insisting on a difference is pretentious and unnecessary. But guess what — I just talked to my bestie Shakespeare and he told you to shut up.
Is precision not the predecessor of accuracy? Is specificity not the mother of honesty? Is being pedantic not the way to make sure that things are named what they are, instead of slapping a misspelled word on something and calling it “American?”
That’s why we have these two words. According to Writing Explained, “theatre” is the British spelling of the word applying to both the profession and the location, while “theater” is the word for both in America.
Writing Explained also asserts that “others have attempted to distinguish between theatre and theater, with theatre being an art form and theater being a building where theatre is performed. None of these, however, [have] caught on and none [are] borne out in actual usage.”
AND YET. When you visit the UCCS VAPA website, does it say the department of “Theater and Dance?” No! It says the department of “Theatre and Dance.”
Oh, and what’s the name of our professional company housed on campus? Is it “Theaterworks?” No, don’t be ridiculous. It’s “Theatreworks.” So apparently it has caught on, Writing Explained. Check and mate.
I also think it’s worth noting that in the quote I pulled above, the reason “have” and “are” have brackets around them is because I had to correct the verb tenses. Maybe someone should explain writing to Writing Explained.
I’m ranting about this because it’s very frustrating to have the difference between two words hammered into my brain and then to repeatedly be told that I used the wrong one when I fundamentally didn’t.
Again, I have no problem with my colleagues and advisor telling me that I’m using the wrong word, because they’re just following the rules. I do have a problem with the journalistic tyranny that prevents me from using the right word.
I also know all of this is futile because nothing in my poorly researched opinion is going to change the formatting rules of the great United States of America. I’m still going to have to spell it “theater,” and come to think of it, I probably just made my job harder for myself.
AP Style Book. Photo by Lillian Davis.