AP removes distinction between ‘over’ and ‘more than’

Poynter’s Vicki Krueger shares some news from the American Copy Editors Society conference that will rock copy editors to their very cores: AP Stylebook editors said at a session Thursday that “Over” is fine when referring to a quantity; you don’t have to change it to “more than.”

The news elicited a gasp, Krueger reports.

Here’s the explanation from AP Stylebook Editor Darrell Christian, via Erin Madigan White, AP senior media relations manager:

“We decided on the change because it has become common usage. We’re not dictating that people use ‘over’ – only that they may use it as well as ‘more than’ to indicate greater numerical value.”

Last year AP changed style on underway, a move that caused what’s sure to be minor dismay in comparison.

In April of 2012, they loosened up on the use of “hopefully.”

Related: ‘More than my dead body!’ Journalists react to AP’s over/more than change

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  • Wolfgang Koch, CPRW

    Great forum here—I’m glad I just discovered it! I am in awe at the cornucopia of profound thoughts dispensed here. Since the subject of Latin came up, though, I am surprised nobody has mentioned prepositions, yet (you know…what you’re not supposed to use to end sentences with). The very concept of “preposition” is inherently Latin; like infinitives, there is only one way to do that syntactically in Latin. But, as both DutchS and blagos implied, observing the old scholarly attempts to have English emulate Latin would rob English of its idiomatic edge. It would reflect a kind of rigidity “up with which” Winston Churchill famously would “not put.”

  • tickticktick
  • LoneRangler

    Wrong. I have to use it. Orders from above.

  • AndySchotz

    Got it. I confess: I was only going for the joke.

  • BeastyJ

    No, in fact, I didn’t miss that point.

  • Cynthia Reeh

    Funny, but you are missing a huge point. “Over” is fine when referring to a QUANTITY. No one said it’s completely synonymous with “more than.” Sigh. I guess it’s hard to resist cracking a joke.

  • Guest

    Funny, but you are missing a huge point. The announcement says that “over” is fine when referring to a QUANTITY. It’s not completely synonymous with “more than.” Sigh. I realize it’s hard to resist a joke.

  • Kim Fatica

    So, too, does “fewer than” succumb to “less than”. Dark days, friends…

  • sgriggl

    Cute, but that’s not what’s happening. What I just pointed out is that it used to be “highly inflected.” But we aren’t “reducing” the language when we change how we speak; the complexity is shifting to what are called “pragmatic” aspects of speech (google these terms for some idea of basic linguistics).

    As I point out in another comment below, the general population is more educated than it’s ever been. I very much doubt that our language’s evolution is “dumber” than it was, say, in medieval times.

  • Scott L. Feldman

    Who knows? It might take over 50 years, but anything is possible.

  • http://doityourselfcomputing.com/ Robbi

    I believe that changing something and permitting it and
    accepting it is because it is “common usage” is more shameful when
    groups like this do it. Languages should change yes and they should
    evolve, but they should not DE-volve with a nod of approval because “a
    lot of people do it.” A lot of people practice bigotry too, that doesn’t
    make it acceptable.

  • Jil McIntosh

    I hear “I seen that” all the time. Is AP going to accept it because it’s common usage?

  • michaeltuchman

    Or let’s just drop English altogether and adopt Spanish – there are already a number of speakers rivaling English. spelling and vowels are a lot more consistent. We’d save a lot of class time currently wasted on spelling.

  • michaeltuchman

    If spelling were simply a orthographic representation of speech sounds, then ‘laughter’ would rhyme with ‘daughter’.

  • michaeltuchman

    I’d prefer those changes not be a race to the bottom.

  • michaeltuchman

    And when we reduce language to grunts and groans, you’ll be OK with that? Urgh. Argh.

    I’m not against common usage. Might as well argue against the wind. But it should never be the only consideration.

  • Carolanne Reynolds

    Apologies
    Thought my post had not been submitted b/c it did not appear when I checked back. Thought there’d been a problem. Have now set it to chronological order with newest.
    Let the linguistic games continue.

  • Carolanne Reynolds

    1. Why not use ‘above’? :-)
    2. Appalling to read some call those wanting ‘rules’ grammar nazis — makes one contemplate the opposite — flaming ignoramuses? (sorry, ignorami)
    3. English with phonetic spelling wd lose its continuity with history. As I wrote in one of my poems (maiku), the words are a palimpsest of (our) history. Spelling does have rules, often depending on the source. Regardless of Webster’s changes, some spelling conventions do make sense, eg hoping vs hopping, worship/worshipping (US does write slipping); practice as a noun and practise for verb forms.
    4. Change is inevitable but we can try to guide it toward improvements (in logic, precision, and communication — following rules and having consistency are helpful).
    5. What the majority say or believe is not always right or desirable — it was obvious centuries ago that the sun went around the earth.
    6. Anyone can play the piano or tennis, just not always well. Same with language. Expression a gauge of the quality of thought?
    7. A pity less teaching of grammar in schools. Have to learn another language to find out the parts of speech and how they fit together. In my experience, when I explain the choice and the function, ppl’s eyes light up and they’re relieved there’s actually reason involved, it’s not arbitrary and a mystery. (That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of things we have to work on to improve, singular and plural of YOU come to mind.)
    8. Resist whatever.
    9. May saner heads prevail.

  • Carolanne Reynolds

    1. Why not use ‘above’? :-)
    2. Appalling to read some call those wanting ‘rules’ grammar nazis — makes one contemplate the opposite — flaming ignoramuses? (sorry, ignorami)
    3. English with phonetic spelling wd lose its continuity with history. As I wrote in one of my poems (maiku), the words are a palimpsest of (our) history. Spelling does have rules, often depending on the source. Regardless of Webster’s changes, some spelling conventions do make sense, eg hoping vs hopping, worship/worshipping (US does write slipping); practice as a noun and practise for verb forms.
    4. Change is inevitable but we can try to guide it toward improvements (in logic, precision, and communication — following rules and having consistency are helpful).
    5. What the majority say or believe is not always right or desirable — it was obvious centuries ago that the sun went around the earth.
    6. Anyone can play the piano or tennis, just not always well. Same with language. Expression a gauge of the quality of thought?
    7. A pity less teaching of grammar in schools. Have to learn another language to find out the parts of speech and how they fit together. In my experience, when I explain the choice and the function, ppl’s eyes light up and they’re relieved there’s actually reason involved, it’s not arbitrary and a mystery. (That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of things we have to work on to improve, singular and plural of YOU come to mind.)
    8. Resist whatever.
    9. May saner heads prevail.

  • LoneRangler

    Who died and put AP in charge of the English language?

  • Paul

    When did the AP ever prohibit this? It’s been about 10 years since I worked at a newspaper that used AP style, but the 1998 AP stylebook says that it’s OK to use “over” when it makes sense, and to let your ear be your guide. I don’t have the book in front of me, but I think one of the examples where it was deemed permissible was “She was over 60.”

  • Guest

    When did the AP ever prohibit this? It’s been about 10 years since I worked at a newspaper that used AP style, but the 1998 AP stylebook says that it’s OK to use “over” when it makes sense, and to let your ear be your guide. I don’t have the book in front of me, but I think one of the examples where it was deemed permissible was “She was over 60.”

  • Scott L. Feldman

    When you ask people how much snow fell after a major storm, people are more likely to say “over a foot” than “more than a foot.” If we want writing to have a conversational tone, we need to write the way an average person speaks.

  • Mike Simms

    I’m not going to lay down for this!

  • Kaedwon

    I’m so glad AP has its priorities straight. Better to make irrational stylebook changes that nobody other than unemployed (or soon to be) copy editors gives a damn about, rather than focus on actual problems like publishing opinion pieces under the guise of “news.”

  • sgriggl

    I was being hyperbolic, but yes… although I see your point, I really DON’T think spelling is anything but an exercise in phonetics… Writing is simply an orthographic representation of speech sounds.

    And at some point, we may risk losing some etymologies (although many of our etymologies are not really so obvious anyway, since English draws from so many sources [French, Latin, German, Scandinavian, etc.]). We call it a caterpillar (Latin) instead of a leafworm (Old English). Leafworm actually conjures something up for me, and I wish our language was more like that. But even though I’m a native speaker, I can think of no relationship the common, Latin-derived term has for me except its referent itself. (Etymonline reports that the term means “shaggy cat”, but as an English speaker, you certainly don’t get that.)

    And if we have another phenomenon like the great vowel shift, pronunciation may be so divorced from spelling that we’ll have no choice.

  • NathanaelCulver

    “The changes in the new AP stylebook allow to spell ‘underway’ as one word.”

    In the past few years I’ve seen an increasing use of “allow to”, to the point where it’s becoming quite common. Unlike “over” vs. “more than”, however, this results in a real loss of information and hence clarity. It allows WHOM to, exactly?

  • NathanaelCulver

    Except that we don’t just consume English with our ears, and spelling is more than just an exercise in phonetics. How would you spell words like “the”, “convict”, “produce”, “record”, or “advertisement”? Is “dog” “dahg”, “dawg”, or Doewug”?

    I could write something like “Thuh maen en thuh wimin ar hyumin” but the phonetic gain is an etymological loss; “man”, “woman” and “human” are cognates whose relationship is preserved in the spelling even if lost in the pronunciation. Or how about, “Thuh bau baud in thuh wind”? Sure, I can read it. Understand it? Natch.

  • sgriggl

    The English language evolved to this point, with these rules as they are, with an even “dumber” general speaking populace (imagine education levels in the Middle Ages!). However, modernity has seen an increase in education across the board. We are more educated than we’ve ever been. How could any change at this point be a “dumbing down” of the language?! Journalists, especially, must write in Plain English to reach their maximum audience: this linguistic question is also a question of the basic human right to access of information!

  • sgriggl

    I think this gets to the meat of it. Our knee-jerk reaction comes from social conditioning—these grammar rules were drilled into us, to the point where we have an emotional reaction when somebody *oversteps* their bounds.

    I do a lot of work in the Tibetan language, and the written language has been “frozen” basically since Buddhism came to Tibet around 1,000 years ago. So there is this gap between how people speak and how people write or read (linguists call it a “diglossia”). Imagine speaking Modern English, but having to learn to read and write in Middle English (like Chaucer).

    If all your grammar rules are predicated on a language that’s no longer in use, it creates a LOT of problems for beginning readers. They cannot relate their everyday use of the language to what they see in print.

    It’s actually brilliant that the Modern English language exists in such a way that it’s continually revised and updated. And it’s extremely important that such work continues. Because if nothing else, language exists to communicate.

    It evolved to this point, with these rules as they are, with an even dumber general speaking populace. Modernity has seen an increase in education across the board. We are more educated than we’ve ever been. How could any change at this point be a “dumbing down” of the language?! Journalists, especially, must write in Plain English to reach their maximum audience: this linguistic question is also a question of the basic human right to access of information!

  • NathanaelCulver

    As an English educator by profession and a linguist by training, I’m always torn on this questions between my competing prescriptivist and descriptivist tendencies. Not to mention that I have a strong affinity for rules and order just as a matter of asthetics.

    So the English teacher in me will probably continue to mark “over thirty” wrong even while my inner linguist screams, “WHY?!” It’s the same inner turmoil I experience every time I step into the “10 items or less” line at the supermarket: do I call the manager?

    The linguist in me argues that, as the purpose of language is communication, rules exist to foster clarity. In this case, since I have a hard time seeing where “over” vs. “more than” (or “Web site” vs. “website”) degrades clarity, I have difficulty getting worked up over the change.

    On the other hand, the educator continues to insist, “It’s wrong because, you know, rules!”

    Either way, I find the whole discussion fascinating.

  • NathanaelCulver

    “Over” can be a locative, certainly. But then there’s “overtime”, “overnight”, “over-kind”, “over the limit”, “overage (noun)”, “oversized”, “overkill”, “overabundance” or any of perhaps a hundred other examples in which “over” denotes “excess” rather than location. And if I can be “underage” why can’t I be “under 18″?

  • Egg Man

    and what about AP take on ”internet” lc vs ”Internet” caps?

  • sgriggl

    That’s about the sum of it. If anything, English is due for another round of even bigger and more radical revisions than we’ve seen (in our lifetimes) to date…

  • blagos

    My wife is an English-as-a-second-language-learner. She learned English spelling via memorization and her (English) spelling is better than mine. I like to look for rules and then apply them rather than memorizing. Of course when it comes to English spelling, there are no rules — and thus I am a bad speller. However, I have a much easier time spelling words in my wife’s native language (Spanish) than I do in English, as there the spellings are more reflective of the spoken language. There the “rules” are much more closely followed.

  • sgriggl

    single. best. comment. yet.

  • sgriggl

    Exactly. Most of the second language learners I know agree that American English makes a bit more sense to them. I believe that this is simply because it has been more thoroughly revised more recently (in areas such as spelling) and thus the written language more closely reflects the spoken… and spoken language is the basis through which we access written language. (Of course, we’re still left with some confusing archaic spellings that we simply have to memorize, like the silent k in “know” and the gh in “daughter”—these were pronounced once upon a time, and still are in some rare English dialects).

  • sgriggl

    Right, that was my point. Saying “it’s just a rule” certainly doesn’t justify it. People deal with numbers metaphorically, or using figures of speech, all the time. And that’s what my examples were meant to point out. “You must be over 21 to purchase alcohol.” I’ve never even heard of this rule, much less abided by it. And it simply strikes me as odd to have a strong emotional reaction to its retraction…

  • Dave Lanson

    “Somewhere, more than the rainbow” just doesn’t sound right to me.

  • Virginia

    Fond memories of my first boss, the editor of a newsmagazine, telling me that “hopefully” made him upchuck.

  • blagos

    You have hit the nail on the head. The more effective the communication, the better the grammar.

  • blagos

    Very interesting. Great information! “Allow” is now intransitive? Please explain!

  • blagos

    No! We should do the opposite. Get rid of the schwa sound from English and everyone’s spelling will be greatly improved! *lol*

  • blagos

    I think that ignoring a change in usage would be dumbing down.

  • blagos

    Take a classic rule like, “You cannot split an infinitive.” Why? Because in Latin it is impossible to split an infinitive since the infinitive is only one word. The rule was transferred to English in the 1800′s for no reason in particular.

  • blagos

    Yes, unlike the laws of nature, the laws of language are purely arbitrary. When the American Revolution was over, Webster wrote his first “American” dictionary, with spellings and definitions that were different from what was considered standard in England. His idea was to create a new, pure language for a new country. Some of his changes (color instead of colour) are standard today based purely on his arbitrary decisions — and serve to distinguish American convention from UK convention (or even Canadian). It is interesting to note that many (most?) of his changes were never adopted. I guess the lesson here is that you can make whatever rules that you want, but the language will change or not change in ways that are unpredictable and with total disregard for the “rules”.

  • blagos

    Eventually, yes. As sgriggl says above, that is how languages evolve. There was a time when there was NO English language. English evolved from other languages — and that is the way that all languages have developed over time (unless you want to talk about the languages that were artificially created, such as Esperanto).

  • Mr. Obvious

    Well to be fair a lot of those examples you used sgriggl are figures of speech or metaphorical. Or just different meanings all together. I’m no language expert but the English language is quite a tapestry of rules and exceptions. Don’t complicate what Bridget is saying. The previously grammatical way of dealing with numbers was by using “less than” and “more than” not “over” and “under”. Period. It’s just a rule that every college student and journalist had to be aware of when typing up a paper referencing the AP Style Guide. A rule as well as thousands of other rules. Like spelling out “thousands” when using it the way I just did.

    My little conspiracy theory though is that AP revises its rules every year, so that everyone has to buy a new style guide every year. :)

  • Taeil

    You seriously think adopting practicality is “dumbing down”?

  • Ray R.

    You whiners need to get *over* it.

  • sgriggl

    I think that’s the key (the study of linguistics)… Even a basic understanding of linguistics gleaned from internet articles can cure you of pedanticitus.

  • Taeil

    Exactly. I understand good form and grammar should be held in high regard and important in many respects but the outrage over this practical change is simply prissy self-righteousness. After studying linguistics (which involves more science than any English lit class), I’ve learned not to be such a anal retentive prescriptivist.

  • sgriggl

    Great idea! Better yet, let’s simply ensure that we update our spelling to accurately reflect the gradual shifts in pronunciation that have occurred over the decades. By increasing the natural feel to phonemic awareness (by spelling words the way they sound), people will automatically spell “better.”

  • DutchS

    The vast majority of our English “rules” can be traced back to some prissy editor or self-appointed grammar Nazi, and have no basis in real linguistics. A lot of them come from misbegotten attempts to organize English like Latin. Now I love Latin, but English ain’t Latin.

  • sgriggl

    …and it is used in this numerical sense metaphorically. (“In” is also locative, did you see what I did there?). We also say, “I’m over it,” or we ask, “Is class over yet?” or we say, “It’s above my paygrade,” or “Lying is below me.” Saying “it is locative” and interpreting that literally doesn’t change how we actually use language…

  • Brad Martin

    Over is not a synonym for more than and never will be.

  • Bridget Grogan

    Over is a locative. It designates the physical placement/position of one thing to another. Over, under, above and below are examples of locatives. Thanks for asking Nathanael

  • jgerardbreiner

    Hear, this, AP:
    A dictionary editor tells us why we should get rid of the fussiness that results in “Everyone should do his or her best in whatever he or she does” and replace it with the usage that prevailed as far back as Shakespeare and the King James Bible: “Everyone should do their best…etc.” http://www.merriam-webster.com/video/0033-hisher.htm

  • Joe

    I’m thinking of a common usage that is used way more often. Will they say it is OK to use, also? Just because way more people do one thing as opposed to another doesn’t make it right. Or am I way off base?

  • NathanaelCulver

    Out of curiosity, Bridget, why is it “wrong”? I’m not challenging you, I’m curious. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on this, but despite all the hue and cry over this, I haven’t found a single “more than” champion who’s offered a rational explanation as to why “over twenty” is ungrammatical.

  • NathanaelCulver

    As an English educator, I have a visceral reaction to yet another example of the “dumbing down” of the English language. On the other hand, as a trained linguist, I’m fascinated by yet another example of linguistic evolution.

    In this present case, the rule that dictates using “more than” instead of “over” before a number originated with William Cullen Bryant at the New York Post back in 1877. Bryant never gave an explanation for why he preferred “more than” in certain situations, but his preference found its way into grammarians’ handbags on the left side of the Big Pond anyway (though British prescriptivists never seem to have gone for it, and the two remain interchangeable in the Queen’s English).

    Personally, until running across this article, I was blissfully unaware that anyone even distinguished the two, let alone enough to become passionate on such a, shall we say?, pedantic point.

    The educator in me is much more interested in when and how “allow” suddenly became an intransitive verb.

  • Bob D.

    The dumbing down of America continues unabated.

  • cory

    I’m sticking with “more than,” but my resolve is weak. “Under way,” though, will be two words until I die.

  • Larry Levinson

    This decision is less than review.

  • Grant Cooper

    The pedantic scribe class, to which I and many of us belong, tends to quibble and protest these changes, despite the futility of the resistance. The shore resists the waves, yet it will eventually yield. Language and science each have certain rules, but must change with new evidence and new understanding.

  • Ancient_Pollyanna

    This would never happen in France.

  • Francois

    faxpaladin – we’re talking about quantity here, not effing direction.

  • Mister Salty

    I don’t “have” to change it, but I’m going to. Just like every time I change “due to” to “because.”

  • Bridget Grogan

    Doesn’t fly with me. I will continue to teach my students to use “more than”. Common usage is the excuse? A lot of people are doing it wrong, so we will too? Sigh…

  • West Seattle Blog

    For as long as this crabby semi-old editor breathes, I’ll be changing “over” to “more than” in quantity references. I also refuse to drop the hyphen in “e-mail.” Hmph.

  • Eileen Briesch

    No! We had the discussion on our desk and most didn’t like this change.

  • MsShaynaT

    Blasphemy! :-) I don’t think this is going to go over well in some newsrooms.

  • faxpaladin

    OK, just out of curiosity… how do you folks feel about “over the weekend,” or “a fight over prices”? Both those uses are verboten here and I really don’t see why. (On “over”/”more than,” I prefer “more than,” by the way.)

  • atardif

    It won’t fly in my newsroom either. Over means “on top of”.

  • Rick Gershman

    I’m totally fine with this. I’ve been correcting “over” to “more than” for years, purely because that’s how AP rolled. Now I don’t have to worry about it anymore. Sweet.

  • Michael Ehret

    Ridiculous. Short-sighted people at AP these days.

  • BeastyJ

    Yet another sign that the apocalypse is at hand. Bar the doors! The zombies can’t be far behind.

  • Julia M. Dendinger

    I didn’t even get to finish reading the sentence out loud, when an emphatic “No.” was uttered by my editor. So, yeah, this isn’t going to fly in our newsroom!