Bloody Well Write

August 4, 2009

My 2 cents

Filed under: AP Stylebook,grammar — bloodywellwrite @ 1:45 pm
Tags: , , ,

When it comes to money, everyone has an opinion about how to manage it. Let me just add one thought: Let’s leave the fate of dollars and cents — in the written form, anyway — to the folks at the AP Stylebook headquarters.

Feed the pig

Feed the pig

When you don’t have a ton (or even a pound) of cash and you are writing about this lack of funds, spell out the word cents and use numerals for any amount less than a dollar:

• What can I buy for 8 cents?
• He gave me 74 cents back in change.

If you’re lucky enough to be able to rub coins against paper money, use the dollar sign and decimals for any amount equal to or larger than a dollar:

• Bob owes me exactly $1.
• I owe Sue a penny more: $1.01.
• Sue bought me a slurpie that cost $2.35.

As much as I’d like to use that cute cent sign (¢), AP doesn’t approve, so I acquiesce.

Happy trails!



February 3, 2009

A lot of loot

So you’re writing about how much something costs. Let’s say your topic is widgets. But not just any widgets; your widgets are headed to the U.S. government warehouses. So we know that these are extraordinarily special widgets, since they cost somewhere between $3 and $7 million dollars per box of 20.

Wait. What did that say? How much are those widgets, exactly?

Here’s a problem that occurs in all sorts of writing. Can some of those boxes of widgets really be only $3 (three dollars) if some are $7 million ($7,000,000)? I’d bet not — and I’m not a betting woman. The more likely range is $3 million – $7 million. If that’s the case, then you must attach the word million to each monetary figure.

“But hold on, missy,” you say. “Adding that clunky word twice messes up the design of my brilliant headline/subhead/copy.” Sorry, I retort, but them’s the rules and there’s no eliminating it.

There is, however, a way to get that million (or thousand or billion) in there. You can use abbreviations:
• M (million)
• K (thousand)
• G (billion — although most people don’t know what the G stands for, so a rewrite might be in order)

Keep in mind that using K to represent 1,000 or $1,000 is against AP Stylebook rules; K already has other meanings, such as modem transmission speeds (56K) or race distances (5K). Ad folks love to break rules, though, so if it’s purely a design issue and it’s purely cosmetic (i.e., not in technical copy), and since a boatload of dictionaries state that it’s an acceptable substitution, I suppose you can go ahead and break the AP rule. There, I said it. Just don’t spread it around. I have a reputation to uphold.

OK. What else about that first statement stunk? Here it is, in part, again:

… they cost somewhere between $3 and $7 million dollars per box of 20.

You see the dollar signs? Using those means that you don’t have to also use the word dollars. It’s redundant. The word dollars is great if you “need a few dollars” (unspecified amount). Attach a figure and dollars goes out the window. Same goes for million and billion: If it’s a casual use, don’t add numbers: I need a billion dollars.

If you need a specific amount that’s in the millions or billions, use up to two decimal points: I need $4.75 million to fund my dream home. Shy away from using fractions with such large amounts of cash (e.g., don’t use $4¾ million). If you want to be more accurate, use the exact number: I need $4,750,391 to fund my dream home.

If those aren’t enough rules for you for one day, here’s one more: Do not use a hyphen to join the figures and the words million or billion. It should be: This $295 million house budget just isn’t cutting the mustard. And if that’s the case, I’d like you to hire me as your interior decorator.

Now that that’s off my chest, I feel a thousand times better.

Happy trails!


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