Much wailing and gnashing of teeth have greeted this week’s Associated Press style change on when to abbreviate and when to spell out state names. Read on for a mnemonic inspired by the Beastie Boys.

The AP memo reads: “Effective May 1, the AP will spell out state names in the body of stories. Datelines will continue to use abbreviations.”

Here’s my mnemonic: Spell out “Illinois” in the body of a story. But in datelines, captions and party affiliations, you’re still licensed to “Ill.”

Now if only there weren’t two kinds of state abbreviations to choose from. As long as we’re simplifying style rules, why not choose one kind of state abbreviation? We have “Ill.” unless you have a mailing address, in which case “IL” is required.

I’m not writing this to complain; I think AP’s rationale of seeking efficiency is laudable. AP style is always evolving. Maybe the next step will move further toward simplicity and uniformity of rules.

If we move to using just one set of state abbreviations (and I’m sure a lot of people would hate this because it just doesn’t look right), I’d opt for the postal abbreviation.


I confess my thinking is influenced by understanding how the Google Fusion Tables application works. It understands either spelled-out state names (Kansas, for instance) or two-letter, capitalized postal abbreviations (KS). “Kan.” does not exist to Google Fusion Tables.

If you try to import a spreadsheet with geocoded data and merge it with a KML file to create a heat map, you’ll get the geocoding equivalent of the Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive not working again: You expect to lurch into the hyperspace of data visualization, but the result is a disappointing lack of heat map. Going postal might be ugly to look at, but what works, works.