From &pizza to Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan (and bama in the middle), Washington City Paper’s complete local lexicon
Share this story:
We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Like a lot of newsrooms, Washington City Paper’s office can get a little heated over matters like serial commas, misplaced modifiers, honorifics, and the proper use of en-dashes. But our copy-desk debates can also be decidedly more parochial: Is it “the Palisades,” or just “Palisades”? If there are more than one NIMBY, are they NIMBIES or NIMBYs? How do I spell “bama” (“bamma?”), and am I one for asking?
Several weeks ago—building off the work of City Paper editors going back several years—we decided to do ourselves and posterity a favor by compiling the D.C.-specific appendix to the Associated Press Stylebook any local writer ought to have. The idea wasn’t just to make consistent our usage of terms like “go-go,” “cised,” and “share plates.” It was to help codify how we think about our city—how we write tells our readers a lot about who we are. In that spirit, we present to you the D.C. Manual of Style and Usage.
Two caveats: Some of these entries, especially the ones that kicked off some serious debates here, represent changes from our practices up to now. More importantly: Our appendix is an incomplete and living document. That’s why you can contribute using the form below. We’ll include our favorites online, and also enter them into our in-house guide. Give these prescriptions great weight.—Jonathan L. Fischer
Photographs by Darrow Montgomery.
Entries by Martin Austermuhle, Jule Banville, Christina Cauterucci, Jonathan L. Fischer, Michael E. Grass, Caroline Jones, Mike Madden, Brian McEntee, Rebecca Mills, Darrow Montgomery, Mike Riggs, Jenny Rogers, Jessica Sidman, Will Sommer, Harold Stallworth, Perry Stein, Joe Warminsky, Michael J. West, Aaron Wiener.
No need to put them in parentheses after a spelled-out title; our readers probably realize the “District Department of Transportation” they saw in the first paragraph is the “DDOT” in the fourth. But try to avoid unfamiliar acronyms in general. Agency acronyms, like MPD, DMPED, and WMATA, are OK on second reference, but consult an editor about anything more obscure. Exception: Many bounce beat bands go by an acronym. You can write XIB or TCB on first reference; no need to use Xtreme Intentions Band or Taking Care of Business.
The neighborhood, named for two elementary schools (now both closed) that its residents’ children used to attend before desegregation—Thomas P. Morgan Elementary was all black, and John Quincy Adams Elementary was all white. Don’t call it “AdMo.” (For discussion of nightlife connotations, see entry on “the next Adams Morgan.”)
Unit of microgovernment in D.C. whose input is supposed to be given “great weight” in certain planning decisions and whose elected commissioners get greatly outraged when they don’t feel that weight is being properly respected. They’re denominated by ward and by ANC, so: ANC 6B, ANC 4A, etc., but don’t just drop those in your copy and expect anyone to know where they are. Instead, say, “the Advisory Neighborhood Commission for such-and-such neighborhood.” Advisory neighborhood commissioner should not be capitalized, unless used as a title. Also, while “ANC commissioner” sounds redundant, it’s generally acceptable, and probably preferable to calling someone “an ANC.”
By the city’s definition, all housing restricted to people making less than 80 percent of area median income. In practice, housing capped at 80 percent AMI is available to families of four making more than $80,000 a year and is not affordable to many D.C. households. Don’t use the term without specifying how affordable the units really are. See “area median income.”
The median income of households in D.C.—plus Bethesda, Fairfax, McLean, and other rich suburbs. For a family of four, it’s $86,000 a year. Used to define affordable housing, and thus responsible for it being not very affordable. (The median income in the District alone is $64,000.) “AMI” is acceptable on second reference.
In a more bamafied time, Washington City Paper used to style this “’Bama,” with an apostrophe and an uppercase B. For a while, we used “bamma,” on the theory that the two Ms were needed to make the initial A short. But we now follow the unimpeachable precedent of local radio personality Huggy Lowdown’s “Bama of the Week.” Oh—you want to know what a bama is? Go look it up somewhere else, you no-account bama.
A portmanteau of “black” and “Elvis.” Refers exclusively to D.C.’s mostly elusive, semifamous busker; he likely never uses the words “portmanteau” and “busker,” but he can sing every song in the Elvis Presley catalog.
One of D.C.’s two shadow senators. Include the initial on first reference to differentiate him from the felonious former councilmember, whose middle initial is A. On second reference, “White Mike” is acceptable.
The former home of the Bullets (who weren’t renamed the Wizards until they moved downtown), Capitals, Hoyas, and the usual arena slate of concerts, Ice Capades, and monster truck shows. It’s also the home of the “parking lot” in the cult documentary classic Heavy Metal Parking Lot. In its later years, it was known as USAir Arena, but if you’re referencing a building whose primary tenants left it in 1998 and that was demolished in 2002, you’re probably going for nostalgia anyway, so feel free to stick with the original name.
A neighborhood. You can be in it or, more colloquially, “on Capitol Hill.” Unless you’re on the U.S. Capitol grounds or in or near one of the congressional office buildings. Then you are definitely on Capitol Hill. For either usage, “the Hill” is fine on second reference.
No need to specify that the D.C. neighborhood is in D.C., but if you’re referring to the area on the other side of the city line, write “Chevy Chase, Md.” (but see entry on “states” to learn how this varies from our usual style for inside-the-Beltway place names). If you’re referring to the actor, write “Chevy Chase, the actor.”
A neighborhood east of downtown, distinguishable by an arch over H Street NW, an outpost of a British dim sum chain, and Chinese characters on such neighborhood institutions as Urban Outfitters and City Sports. Formerly home to a large Chinese population.
An adjective that is the opposite of trans—that is, describing a person who identifies as the same gender as his or her biological sex. It can combined to form a noun, i.e. cisman, ciswoman, or cispeople, or an adjective, i.e., cisgender. Only necessary when used in a general, cultural sense, usually as a counterpoint to “trans”—no need to identify every gendered subject as a cisman or ciswoman. You might write, “Transwomen are protesting the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, which only allows ciswomen on its grounds.” Not to be confused with cised.
A bicycle lane separated from vehicular traffic by bollards, zebras, or other jargony barriers. Frequently used as parking for delivery trucks, tourists, and Porta-Potties. Channel lots of outrage when this happens, and be sure to take pictures.
Uppercase when you give the full name, e.g. “the Committee on Economic Development.” Lowercase when you refer to a committee more casually, e.g. “the economic development committee.” Generally, either is acceptable on first reference.
Do not write “the D.C. United” or “the United.” Write “D.C. United” or “United.” (Or “the only major pro sports organization to win any league championships in D.C. in the last two decades,” with due respect to the world-champion Washington Kastles.) Though you might refer to “the D.C. United campaign to build a new stadium.”
We get dumped on plenty by Congress, so there’s no need to add insult to injury by referring to the city as a small-d “district.” When you’re referring to a congressional district, a school district, or a historical district, go small, but opt for the self-respecting big-D District when mentioning the District of Columbia on second reference. The Associated Press recently amended its Stylebook to give us the big-D treatment, and it’s worth pondering what took it so long.
The 10-miles-square jurisdiction, minus the portion retroceded to Virginia in 1847, in which we live and take pride. May be shortened to “the District” or “D.C.” Do not refer to it as “Washington” (except for occasional word-choice variety), as that place does not legally exist (see “Washington”), or as “the nation’s capital,” except with irony. Represented with three stars and two bars on tattoos, beer cans, rustic-looking crafts, and occasionally a flag.
Stands for do-it-yourself, but the acronym can and should stand on its own. Confusingly, it is a term for two things: the ethos of alternative/underground/noncommercial art and the people who make it, and places that host it. Example: “There’s been a surge of DIY spaces in the warehouse district now that zoning restrictions have been lifted.” “The band may be getting a lot of press, but it’s DIY as ever.” Also refers to craftiness: “Community Forklift is the place to shop for DIY projects.”
If you’re referring to the agency, “Department of Motor Vehicles” on first reference. If you’re referring to the region’s hip-hop scene, “DMV” is fine. If you’re referring to the D.C. area, write “the D.C. area.”
Generally, the neighborhoods east of Rock Creek Park—but typically only refers to those neighborhoods in Northwest, presumably because anything east of North Capitol Street is obviously also east of the park. May be used without explanation in quotes, but on first reference in our own copy, say “east of Rock Creek Park.”
The neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, both in Northeast and Southeast—and don’t forget that sliver of Southwest! Includes all of Ward 8 and virtually all of Ward 7. Hyphenate when using adjectivally.
The used-car company is officially called Easterns Automotive Group, but most people call it Eastern Motors, mostly because the company calls itself that, on occasion. If using “Easterns,” note the absence of an apostrophe. Under either usage, your job is your credit.
Residential and retail development completed in 2004 that’s home to a Regal Cinemas, a number of chain stores and restaurants, and D.C.’s oontziest bowling alley. Note that the Metro station is Gallery Place/Chinatown. Use of the name for the area, which predates the construction of the development, was inspired by the nearby National Portrait Gallery.
Typically a rowhouse shared by multiple young professionals or artists; in some neighborhoods they’re less common now than they were before the real estate boom. Not to be confused with a group home, which doesn’t typically involve Craigslist.
A part of many actual neighborhood names; also a term deployed by real estate brokers to create neighborhoods out of thin air. 16th Street Heights, Columbia Heights, and Congress Heights are real places. Dupont Heights is not.
For major works like albums, movies, TV shows, operas, books, and plays. Minor works like songs, poems, and paintings take quotes. Art exhibits take quotes. Evening-long dance pieces (The Nutcracker, Swan Lake) take itals. Shorter pieces or acts (“Rubies” from Balanchine’s Jewels) take quotes.
Not a street in D.C., but it is a) a D.C.-based Jewish advocacy group for peace in the Middle East, which casts itself as an alternative to the more conservative AIPAC; b) a D.C.-based real estate development firm (full name: J Street Companies); and c) a dining hall at George Washington University.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer. Don’t forget the Q, unless you’re quoting someone or naming an organization that uses a different acronym. No need to explain what this stands for; the acronym on its own is fine. (Also see: queer; transgender.)
Either the traffic circle at the intersection of 13th Street NW, Rhode Island Avenue NW, P Street NW, and Vermont Avenue NW, or the surrounding neighborhood. Before D.C.’s recent development boom, much of this area was described as “East Dupont” in real estate listings to disguise exactly where it was, but these days, people in search of cachet have even been known to attempt to stretch its boundary west of 16th Street NW.
Can be interchangeably used to refer to either the city-sanctioned games of chance that prey on the poor with promises of big payouts or the city-sanctioned game of chance that parents east of Rock Creek Park feel forced to play if they want to get their kids into a good school. Odds of winning both are low.
Marion Barry, who earned the honorific after winning his fourth term despite being convicted for cocaine possession. Uppercase as a title, lowercase as a description. Barry once hated the name, a play on Haitian President-for-Life Papa Doc Duvalier, but he ended up borrowing it to title his memoir.
Nickname of D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. Also MENDO, a bingo-like board game named for Mendelson that Wilson Building insiders play during some Council sessions. (See entry on “Wilson Building.”)
Acceptable as a stand-in for Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority when referring to the agency that controls Metrorail. When discussing organizational news at WMATA, the agency’s proper name should be used. Use “Metro,” not “Metrorail,” unless distinguishing from Metrobus. Also used in “Metro station” (not “Metrorail station”). Other cities do not have Metros; they have subways or rapid-transit systems. Paris has a Métro.
Use only to differentiate the red, white, and blue buses operated by Metro (see entry on Metro) from the red and white ones operated by the District Department of Transportation, which are Circulators. If people are standing at a stop, in other words, they’re waiting for a bus, not a Metrobus.
Always give the neighborhood where a story takes place; “in Southeast” is not specific enough, mostly because we aren’t a local TV news operation. (“Southwest” is an exception, given the quadrant’s modest proportions, although “Southwest Waterfront” and “Buzzard Point” should be used when appropriate.) If the neighborhood is ambiguous, it’s sometimes OK to just give the street; if it’s unknown to most Washingtonians (e.g. Civic Betterment), place it in its geographic context. Neighborhood boundaries can be derived from Google Maps, business improvement districts, and the Washington Post’s homicide map, but when possible, check with a staff member who’s been barraged with neighborhood-boundary complaints from persnickety residents for two-plus years, i.e. your loyal Housing Complex columnist.
Once self-deprecating but now paradoxically self-glorifying term the national press corps frequently uses to refer to the annual awards dinner of the White House Correspondents Association. We don’t go to the dinner, nor write about it much, and we certainly don’t call it this.
Originally stood for “Not In My Back Yard” but now can be used as a noun to describe people (“some Tenleytown NIMBYs oppose allowing denser development in the neighborhood”) or their ideology (“trying to prevent construction of an apartment building on top of a Metro station is just NIMBYism”). Pluralize as “NIMBYs,” not “NIMBIES,” obviously.
Electric utility in the District and Montgomery County and Prince George’s County. Often in the news for power outages after cataclysmic weather (like a derecho or a big snowstorm) or less cataclysmic weather (like wind). Never “PEPCO.”
Maryland jurisdiction to the northeast, southeast, and south of the District. Use Prince George’s on second reference; some residents think “P.G.” is derogatory. Speaking of which, “Ward 9” is also considered derogatory.
No longer considered a slur when used by decent human beings. Generally acceptable as a substitute for the other big umbrella term, LGBTQ (ex: “Whitman-Walker is expanding its health services for queer patients”). Avoid calling people queers (use it as an adjective, not a noun) unless you’re a queer writing in a colloquial tone, in which case, do whatever the fuck you want.
No. “Reagan National Airport” or “Reagan Washington National Airport” are fine on first reference. “National Airport” or “National” are acceptable on subsequent references. If you interview someone who says they’re “flying into Reagan,” you should feel superior to them, but you may quote them.
Refer to specific Safeways in geographic terms—neighborhoods or street names. (Acceptable: “the Georgetown Safeway,” “the Georgia Avenue Safeway,” or “the Safeway at Maryland Avenue and Benning Road NE.”) Avoid Safeway nicknames (“the Stinky Safeway,” “the Subterranean Safeway”) unless specifically addressing the nickname or writing about the store in cultural terms. (Acceptable: “Neighbors have questioned whether the old ‘Stinky Safeway’ moniker holds water now that the Georgia Avenue grocery has been rebuilt.” Not acceptable: “The Stinky Safeway will reopen next month.”) The Safeway nicknames, many of which refer to conditions that no longer exist (“the Soviet Safeway”) or stores that no longer exist (“the Secret Safeway”), remain appropriate for colloquial use and Twitter debate but not for publication. Note: The “Swift Safeway,” so named by PoPville readers because it’s on the first floor of a new luxury apartment building called the Swift, is not appropriate for any use.
Former psychiatric hospital near Congress Heights, the site of which is slated for redevelopment. Its lack of an apostrophe is a result of inconsistent usage in the 17th century, when the tract of land upon which it was built was named; Congress didn’t include an apostrophe when it officially renamed the facility from its original moniker, the Government Hospital for the Insane, in 1916. Copy editors have been confounded ever since.
What D.C. alcohol regulators once called a voluntary agreement—or, snarkily by some business owners, an “involuntary” agreement. This arrangement between an alcohol-serving establishment and its neighbors (“protestants,” no matter what their religious beliefs are) dictates everything from hours of operation to outdoor seating to trash pick-up. Restaurants and bars in D.C. often need one if they want the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration to approve their liquor license.
After a city, use the old AP style abbreviations (e.g. Madison, Wis., and Ocean City, Md.). Ignore the AP’s oafish new policy of spelling out state names. For cities in the immediate D.C. area, states are generally not needed; our readers know that McLean is in Virginia and Potomac is in Maryland, even if they justifiably find both locations a little frightening.
Only abbreviate when giving a full address: “1400 I St. NW.” For intersections of streets, don’t capitalize types of streets if they’re both the same kind of street: “At the corner of 14th and I streets NW,” but “Pennsylvania Avenue NW and 14th Street NW.”
Not theatre, except as part of a proper noun. We don’t know how the obsession with French spelling arose, but we’re not playing along. Studio Theatre, you’re doing it wrong. Howard Theatre, WTF? Signature Theatre, just stop. You’re making our spellcheck misfire and our copy editors gnash their already worn-down teeth. Take a hint from our star pupil, Arena Stage’s Mead Center for American Theater, or we may start calling you thee-AT-ruhs.
Warning applied to a neighborhood that is not Adams Morgan. (See entry on Adams Morgan.) Historically, “the next Adams Morgan” is a neighborhood that is mulling a change to its alcohol licensing regime. Most often used by ANC commissioners and people on email lists. In the past, “the next Adams Morgan” warned of a curse: By granting more alcohol licenses (or failing to cap them), a neighborhood risked winding up as a popular destination for dining and nightlife. Now that U Street NW and 14th Street NW are, in fact, the next Adams Morgans—a result, in part, of a moratorium on liquor licenses for new restaurants in (the real) Adams Morgan—the phrase “the next Adams Morgan” may be applied to neighborhoods suffering from NIMBYism.
Never transgendered. Preferable to shorten and combine with the noun it modifies: transman, transwoman, transpeople, transfolks. Acceptable to shorten on second reference: “trans healthcare.” Always, ALWAYS use the subject’s preferred gender pronoun, even if s/he doesn’t match your idea of what that gender signifies. If you don’t know a subject’s PGP, ask, or avoid using pronouns altogether.
Subgenre of stupid drunk food indigenous to Washington City Paper: a Ben’s Chili Bowl half-smoke with chili wrapped in a jumbo slice—best eaten after 3 a.m., probably when you have enough alcohol in your system to erase all judgement. The invention of City Paper and a variation of Philadelphia’s South Street Taco—a cheesesteak wrapped in a pizza slice best eaten after 3 a.m., probably when you have enough alcohol in your system to erase all judgement.
Gentleman displaying the trappings of a man who could chop down a tree and hunt a deer, regardless of his ability to wield an axe or his views on hunting, of which he probably disapproves. Signifiers include a beard that exceeds a quarter of an inch in length, a plaid shirt, and Red Wings with very clean soles. Likely to be found debating the merits of various small-batch ryes at a whiskey-centric bar.
“Walter Reed” is the former Army hospital site between 16th Street NW and Georgia Avenue NW that will be redeveloped into a mixed-use complex that may or may not include a Wegmans (on the Georgia Avenue side) and a collection of embassies (on the 16th Street side); “Walter Reed National Military Medical Center” is what they’re calling Bethesda Naval Hospital these days.
Officially, it hasn’t existed since the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1871 repealed the charters of the District’s three component jurisdictions—Washington City, Washington County, and Georgetown—and created a unified District of Columbia. Colloquially, usage of the term indicates that you don’t live here or are an out-of-touch employee of the federal government or national press corps. Also a state in the Northwest U.S. (See “District of Columbia, the.”)
Never—ever—use proximity to the White House in order to add gravity to an incident or to put it in geographic context, unless what you’re describing actually happened within eyeshot of the actual White House. This goes especially for crime stories: Unless you fell victim to ISIS pickpockets operating in full view of the first family’s residence, it’s unlikely that what happened to you will sound any more dramatic when you try to convince a local that it happened “near the White House.”