Grammar

Don’t Call a Mistress a ‘Mistress,’ AP Stylebook Says

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Mistress is no longer the proper word to define a homewrecker, the Associated Press now says. But their recent guidance on the matter caused a Twitter stir.

You shouldn’t use the word mistress, the Associated Press says.

This is the time of year when the Associated Press Stylebook comes out, and so it’s the time of year when copyeditors begin ranting about proposed changes to AP Style.

AP Style, I’ve said before, is the style most media outlets use for consistency as members share content.

Their tweet on May 8 caused a bit of controversy. In that tweet, they advise replacing the “archaic and sexist” term for a woman in a “long-term sexual relationship with, and financially supported by, a man who is married to someone else.”

They suggested the alternatives lover or companion.

Some might point out legitimate problems with the suggestions.

But first, I’ll start with the “sexist” part. We’re talking specifically about “a woman,” so we’re making a sexist assumption after all. What is the male equivalent, after all? There’s not one, you say? Well, then I don’t know why we’re worried about being sexist.

(Of course, there are plenty of words to describe a male cheater, but they didn’t mention any of those in that pesky tweet.)

Still, it’s worth remembering that not all homewreckers — an alternative word not suggested — are women.

But the proposed alternates don’t necessarily work, either. I saw someone point out that a one-night stand could be a lover. But that would not qualify as a mistress. And a companion can be completely platonic. Even a dog can be a companion, which (hopefully) has absolutely nothing to do with any kind of sexual relationship.

You’ll find plenty of alternatives in a thesaurus. But the best suggestion I’ve seen bounced around is this one: paramour.

There’s no sexism here: It can be used for a man or a woman.

Problem solved? Probably not. But it’s worth some thought.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.