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Since You Asked: Newspapers do it in AP style

Why is it that newspaper articles always abbreviate Oregon as "Ore." I thought we'd standardized on two-letter abbreviations for states decades ago, and know for a fact that they're taught in school. Beyond that, it would seem that Oregon is the only state using a three-letter abbreviation. Hardly earth-shattering, but I am curious.

— Mike E., Gold Hill

Logic appears to fly out the window in some of our arcane rules of usage, Mike. What you're seeing with "Ore." is Associated Press style. When writing a location, it's Gold Hill, Ore.; but in a mailing address we use the postal code, OR.

AP style was developed to standardize writing, abbreviation, punctuation, capitalization, etc., in newspapers to ensure consistency. The AP is the overseer of style for its member papers, which then typically tweak parts of it to suit their own needs.

Here's a helpful mnemonic device for abbreviating states: For the contiguous 48 states (Hawaii and Alaska aren't abbreviated), abbreviate any state spelled with more than five letters. We use the two-letter postal codes, such as CA, OR and WA, only when reprinting a mailing address.

It all makes perfect sense, doesn't it? To easily recall this info, it helps to sing it to "Mary Had a Little Lamb."

So for those states we abbreviate that aren't obvious (S.D., N.Y., etc.), here's the state name, AP-style abbreviation and the postal code. There will be a pop quiz later today, so study closely:

Alabama/Ala./AL, Arizona/Ariz./AZ, Arkansas/Ark./AR, California/Calif./CA, Colorado/Colo./CO, Connecticut/Conn./CT, Delaware/Del./DE, Florida/Fla./FL, Georgia/Ga./GA, Illinois/Ill./IL, Indiana/Ind./IN, Kansas/Kan./KS, Kentucky/Ky./KY, Louisiana/La./LA, Maryland/Md./MD, Massachussetts/Mass./MA, Michigan/Mich./MI, Minnesota/Minn./MN, Mississippi/Miss./MS, Missouri/Mo./MO, Montana/Mont./MT, Nebraska/Neb./NE, Nevada/Nev./NV, Oklahoma/Okla./OK, Oregon/Ore./OR, Pennsylvania/Pa./PA, Tennessee/Tenn./TN, Vermont/Vt./VT, Virginia/Va./VA, Washington/Wash./WA, West Virginia/W.Va./WV, Wisconsin/Wis./WI and Wyoming/Wyo./WY.

To help remember all that, we sing it to the tune of "Flight of the Bumblebees."

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. The volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.