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AP’s bad call on “ground zero”


A month before the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Associated Press has issued a memo outlining the proper AP style for 9/11-related terms. Among them: “ground zero,” still acceptable as a reference to the World Trade Center site. Here’s why they’re wrong.

I’ve taken issue with the term “ground zero” before. It was once an apt nickname, but the site has changed and language has moved on. It’s no longer an appropriate name for the World Trade Center site.

As words go, “ground zero” suggests a place of destruction. It’s inappropriate now that the site is a giant construction project, with pieces almost ready to open to the public.

Anecdotally, as a resident of lower Manhattan I can tell you locals have all but stopped saying “ground zero.” Tour guides who give a walking tours of the area discourage visitors from saying “ground zero.” When the new office towers open, nobody is going to say, “I work at ground zero.”

What’s the harm in continuing to say this? The term has become politically loaded, as it tends to be used to rally military action.

America is in no danger of forgetting about the 9/11 terror attacks. As we begin to view 9/11 with the wisdom of time and context, the AP should update its stylebook to keep in step with modern language. Writers should be discouraged from using “ground zero” as a synonym for the World Trade Center site.

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You can see the whole AP memo here, via Poynter.

Photo: 1 World Trade Center under construction, August 8, 2011.

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under Language

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