Sometimes I don’t realize the importance of words. Not necessarily that I forget the power words hold, but rather the importance of using the right word in the right context. Today in my public relations tactics class we talked about how important the letter “L” is in the word “public.” Using the wrong word can not only reflect poorly on your editing abilities but can be detrimental to your reputation.

This is why the AP Stylebook is constantly updating and redefining words. In the 2016 edition of the Stylebook, the entry “accident/crash” was added to differentiate between the two terms. Often these words are used interchangeably; however, that can no longer be the case.

When negligence is claimed by one of the parties or is proven in an investigation, the term accident should not be used. Instead, “crash” or “collision” should be used. It should also be noted that even the word collision has specific usage (Collision can be used only when there are two moving vehicles.). The reasoning behind the addition of these terms is that “accident” can be read as absolving a party of responsibility.

This isn’t something that I would have thought to consider when writing a story on a crash. However, now that I’ve read the entry I can understand the importance of distinguishing the two. There is a very distinct difference between an accident and negligence.

When it is put into the context of someone being killed in an automobile collision, the word “accident” gives the implication that neither party is at fault. Example: The man was killed in the car accident. However, when negligence is claimed or proven, there is a specific party at fault. Example: The man was killed in the crash. Someone being killed in an accident is a different story than someone killed due to negligence behind the wheel.

In public relations these slight differences in words can make a huge difference in the story being told. Knowing that, I must choose words with care. Public relations is about telling the story clearly and accurately. And accuracy in a story may boil down to one word: crash or accident, public relations professional or something a little less pleasant.