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Ethiopia wants African Union (AU) mediated negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

Using AP style. You want a hyphen in front of mediated. What is the correct way?

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  • 6
    Just avoid the problem...Ethiopia wants negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) to be mediated by the African Union (AU) . Feb 27, 2021 at 0:03
  • 3
    Or don’t put the abbreviation there. Add it to the next usage instance.
    – Jim
    Feb 27, 2021 at 5:39
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    Ethiopia wants African Union- (AU-) mediated negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Feb 27, 2021 at 16:46
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    "African Union-mediated negotiations" works for me. However, journalistic usage is: at the first mention of African Union, you use: African Union (AU). Then, that authorizes you to then use: "AU-mediated negotiations" later in the text.
    – Lambie
    Nov 24, 2021 at 16:02

2 Answers 2

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This question focuses on AP style and raises issues involving two types of punctuation marks: parentheses and hyphens. My answer addresses these issues separately.


Parentheses

Parentheses are problematic in AP style for several reasons. The Associated Press Stylebook (2007) identifies these reasons near the beginning of the entry for "parentheses" in its punctuation guide:

parentheses () In general, use parentheses around logos, as shown in the datelines entry, but otherwise be sparing with them.

Parentheses are jarring to the reader. Because they do not appear on some news service printers, there is also a danger that material inside them may be misinterpreted.

The temptation to use parentheses is a clue that a sentence is becoming contorted. Try to write it another way. If a sentence must contain incidental material, then commas or two dashes are frequently more effective. Use these alternatives whenever possible.

So, according to AP, parentheses are problematic in three ways: (1) they are jarring to readers; (2) they may drop out of some news service printers, stripping the punctuation from around the parenthetical word or phrase; and (3) they may indicate a convoluted or otherwise poorly constructed sentence.

A fourth problem—one that AP doesn't acknowledge in its entry for "parentheses"—involves the use of parentheses in direct quotations: because AP style doesn't permit the use of square brackets, there is no easy way to distinguish between parentheses that appeared as punctuation marks in the original wording of a piece of writing being quoted and parentheses as explanatory interpolations added by the reporter or editor. In Chicago style, square brackets are used for the latter; but in AP style parentheses are.

Also, whereas Chicago style recommends using square brackets to indicate a secondary parenthetical nested within a primary parentheticals (as in this [admittedly artificial] example), AP style would have to use double parentheses (which is both inelegant and potentially confusing (to readers)) instead.

I suspect that these two further issues contribute to the disfavor with which AP regards parentheses.

In view of AP's strong aversion to jarring punctuation in general and to parentheses in particular, it seems extremely likely that "using AP style" would militate against introducing a compound modifier that combined parentheses and one or more hyphens across multiple words. Instead, it would call for reworking the poster's sentence to use commas in place of parentheses and to avoid the compound modifier altogether—something like this:

Ethiopia wants the African Union, or AU, to mediate proposed negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, or GERD.

Alternatively, it might tolerate parentheses in this same revised construction:

Ethiopia wants the African Union (AU) to mediate proposed negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).


Hyphens

Aside from the parentheses issue, there is a complication related to the absence of en dashes in AP style. In Chicago style, a proper name of two or more words used as part of a compound modifier before the noun or noun phrase it modifies would take an en dash: African Union–mediated negotiations. But in AP style, the only available option is to use a hyphen: African Union-mediated negotiations. So whereas you might plausibly include the parenthetical initialism '(AU)' as a further term in the open compound modifier defined by an en dash under Chicago style:

Ethiopia wants African Union (AU)–mediated negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

you couldn't do the same with a hyphen under AP style:

Ethiopia wants African Union (AU)-mediated negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

because a reader's first impulse will be to read the hyphen as applying only to the two words adjacent to it, rather than as extending farther to the left. Given that "African Union" is readily recognizable as a single entity, the phrase "African Union-mediated" is coherent under AP guidelines, but interpolating a parenthetical in the midst of that phrase pushes it (in my opinion) beyond the pale and into the land of jarring punctuation.

As for such baroque concoctions as "African Union- (AU-) mediated negotiations," I can't imagine that they would win the approval of any news editor adhering to AP style.

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  • "soaring" or "sparing" (typo?)
    – Drew
    Sep 16, 2023 at 3:16
  • "Sparing" it is. Thanks, Drew!
    – Sven Yargs
    Sep 16, 2023 at 6:08
  • It's interesting that AP style still assumes it'll be transmitted via some kind of primitive teleprinter service with no en-dashes or square brackets, and possibly missing other common punctuation. I wonder if such machines are still in use anywhere, or if there's another reason AP hasn't adapted to Unicode.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 13 at 10:40
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Acronyms should be defined on first use so as to avoid misunderstanding and to promote progressive rather than retrogressive understanding. This is usually done parenthetically as in your example. Once the acronym has been placed in its parenthetical prison it cannot be meaningfully hyphenated because the hyphen might then be interpreted as part of the acronym. Any intended connective function to the following is destroyed by the obstacle of the last parenthesis.

Equally, to place the connective hyphen with the last word of the phrase that defines the acronym fails to make the connection with the whole phrase. Also, the intended connection is destroyed by the presence of the intervening parenthetical acronym.

You are left with two possibilities as mentioned in comments. Reconstruct the sentence or go for postponed acronym definition. The latter is not desirable, as outlined above. Reconstruction is likely to be your best solution.

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  • GERD may be an acronym, I'm not sure, but I'm sure that AU isn't, using the default definition used in most dictionaries and on ELU. Nov 24, 2021 at 15:04

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