In 2014, for example, AP’s editors elicited gasps from some Las Vegas conference-goers with the announcement that AP was abandoning its insistence on maintaining distinct meanings for over and more than. (“More than my dead body!” tweeted some editors.)
The years since have been tame by comparison. But last week, the Associated Press made an announcement that got some editors talking again (most saying, “It’s about time!”). The AP has removed the collide/collision entry from the AP Stylebook.
You might never have even thought to look up that particular entry. After all, you’ve got a pretty good handle on what a collision is, right?
But for years, the AP Stylebook had advised that “two objects must be in motion before they can collide. A moving train cannot collide with a stopped train.” This thinking leads to many questions: Must the objects be moving toward each other? Or can they be moving along perpendicular paths? Is it still a collision if a car strays out of its lane and bumps into another car going the same direction down the highway? Must the two things involved in the collision be moving under their own power? Is there a threshold speed that must be reached for a crash to be labeled a collision? When to collide is used in a metaphorical sense, what type of metaphorical movement is required?
The most prominent question, though, is the simplest: Why?
What about the etymology or the definition or the common usage of collision requires two moving agents?
It didn’t always. Two dictionaries from 1943 (Webster’s New International, 2E, and New Twentieth Century) that I have on hand include this definition of collide (marked Obsolete in one and Rare in the other): “to strike or dash against.” Although this isn’t quite the collide we use today, it clearly leaves room for a moving object to connect with stationary one.
Seventeen years earlier, Fowler didn’t find the terms confusing enough to include an entry for collide or collision in his Modern English Usage, and he even included entries for duck and tilth!
Further, I find nothing in the words’ etymology to indicate that two moving objects are necessary for a collision. Collide comes from the Latin com- “with, together” + laedere “to strike, to injure by striking.”
Likely someone in a position of control decided that crash and collide, being separate words, needed something to differentiate them in their definitions and so concocted a difference and convinced (or ordered) other editors to maintain that difference. And then that “rule” spread.
Regardless of how exactly it happened, the idea that a moving object can crash into but not collide with a stationary object was little more than a journalistic tradition. And now the Associated Press has accepted that the tradition no longer needs to be observed. You are free to collide with a tree.