In a Thursday tweet shared over 18,000 times, the Associated Press advised people to avoid using “the” labels, like “the poor,” “the disabled,” or, oui, “the French,” calling it “dehumanizing.”
But after social media users gleefully mocked the suggestion that “the French” was an offensive term, the Associated Press deleted its tweet and apologized.
“The use of ‘the French’ in this tweet by @AP was inappropriate and has caused unintended offense,” the news agency tweeted Friday morning.
The AP Stylebook later suggested that using “French people, French citizens, etc., is good.” However, it reiterated that using “the” for any people “can sound dehumanizing and imply a monolith rather than diverse individuals.”
Immediately after the original tweet, many journalists and public figures joked about substitutes for the term “the French.” Some suggested “people experiencing Frenchness” or “people experiencing a croque monsieur.”
“Assigned French at birth,” suggested a U.K. PhD student.
“These are all just ways to describe the characters in Les Misérables,” wrote one user, referring to the AP tweet. “Sorry… the characters in People With Misérable Experience.”
The Associated Press stylebook serves as something akin to the golden standard of journalistic language, at least among American news outlets, suggesting the correct grammar and language to use for fair reporting.
Perhaps one of the biggest updates to the stylebook in recent years was the decision to capitalize “Black” in reference to people, race, and culture, with the agency arguing that the word conveys an essential and integral shared sense of history and identity.
The View From France
France’s Le Monde newspaper closely followed the Twitter debate over the tweet and its New York correspondent, Arnaud Leparmentier, offered his own theories as to why the AP had used “the French” as an example rather than other nationalities.
“It could not have been a non-Western country, to avoid any suspicion of racism or colonialism; nor former enemies like the Germans, which would have been awkward; and the Poles or the Italians are too numerous in the United States,” Leparmentier opined.
“The French are perfect,” he wrote, given America’s love-hate relationship with France. Despite being historic allies, there was some awkward tension in the 2000s when France opposed the invasion of Iraq.
“But this Thursday, ‘the French’ had a good laugh,” Leparmentier concluded.