Djelloul Marbrook: Once We Had a Press that Gave a Damn

Vox Populi

When I worked as an editor at the once great Baltimore Sun in the 1960s our style book prohibited use of the word rapist, preferring raper. Some of thought this a bit fusty. The Associated Press stylebook approved of rapist. So we had to change wire stories.

The Sun, where the curmudgeonly stylist H.L. Mencken had worked, had grammatical reasons, but in retrospect I find that the ”ist” ending calls up associations that make a compelling case for The Sun’s preference.

We say artist, we say projectionist, columnist, fascist, stylist, communist, and these words convey a sense of craft or dedication. The argument for using rapist instead of raper rests with the first of three definitions of the ist suffix in Merriam-Webster: a person who does a specified action or activity. The next two definitions cast some doubt: a person who makes or produces something specified; a person who…

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