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A quantifiable leap for the word 'over'

Elevating the word "over" seems like a backward move to some.
Elevating the word "over" seems like a backward move to some.
Photo by Tony Duffy/Getty Images

Grammarians were grumbling Thursday because “over” and “more than” became interchangeable in most news media by decree of the Associated Press and its stylebook arbiters. They said “over” is no longer forbidden in comparisons of numbers, amounts, time spans, increases and the like.

It’s a defeat for most of us who enjoy preserving the distinctions being waylaid by the vox populi, though there are respectable grammarians who approve the change

“Good. A worthless distinction,” said grammarian Craig Lancaster, a former sports editor who has become a successful fiction writer. I thought he might be kidding.

Most of were gnashing our teeth Thursday, but we should have known the preponderance of “over” users would lead to this.

“Media” and “data” in singular form became so prevalent among the population at large that they became acceptable, and that’s pretty much why “over” is no longer verboten. It’s pretty obvious that “every day” will soon be “everyday,” and that the lie-lay distinction will be obliterated.

Thursday’s news was more than (or over, if you must) 30 years in the making, judging by the survey conducted circa 1980 by Harper’s via its usage panel, which the Grammar Examiner has adopted.

The Harper’s panel decided that the “more than/over” distinction ought to be enforced in writing (63 percent prevailing) but could be relaxed in speech (61 percent). Some saw this day coming. “Pressure of usage has won,” said panelist Paul Horgan.

Still, we don’t appear to be constrained from changing “over” to “more than,” noted Daniel Jimenez, an editor for the Bay Area News Group. “At least it’s just an acceptable alternative. “

It’s also a popular alternative. “I think most of the publications I write for now change "more than'' to "over'' whenever I write that,” said food writer Carolyn Jung. “Sign of the times, huh?”

Jimenez and Jung were commenting on a Facebook string launched by San Jose Mercury News grammarian and graphics whiz Karl Kahler, whose own version of this story was so impressive that I hereby present it as a closing statement:

A mass spasm of collective astonishment swept newsrooms everywhere today to hear that the AP Stylebook is no longer forbidding "over" as a synonym for "more than." For generations, the stylebook has warned of the danger of a double entendre like "He painted over 80 canvases," and to prevent such a nightmare it has strictly forbidden "over" as an enlarger of numbers. Now it has fallen on its timeworn sword. Go wild, America! To celebrate, I'm going to have over five people over and we're all going to have over two beers. New entry: "more than, over Acceptable in all uses to indicate greater numerical value. Salaries went up more than $20 a week. Salaries went up over $20 a week. See over." Over.


Today’s Question: More Than or Over? Is the distinction between the two worth preserving? PLEASE COMMENT

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Usage panelists weigh in with comments at the bottom of the post. The original Harper’s usage panelists on whom this feature is modeled were identified by first and last name (most of them were well-known writers, journalists and scientists). That provided a panache the Grammar Examiner emulates, but one-name panelists will not be excluded.

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