Wikimedia Commons / Alterego

AP Enrages Copy Editors With 'More Than = Over' Style Change

Changes to The Associated Press Stylebook will allow journalists to use "more than" and "over" interchangebly. The editors are not happy.

By Matt Picht | March 20, 2014

Warning: nerd alert! The world of journalism has been shaken to its core — or at least the world of copy editors — after the Associated Press Stylebook received a controversial update.

The American Copy Editors Society is holding its National Conference in Las Vegas this weekend, and as part of the festivities, the AP editors talked about some of the upcoming changes to the Stylebook — including the canonization of selfie and the hyphenation of Wal-Mart.

But the editors really dropped a bombshell when they announced that "over" is now interchangeable with "more than" when referring to numbers. So you could say @APStylebook has "over" 167,000 Twitter followers, or "more than" 167,000 Twitter followers, and you'd be right either way.

The rule used to favor "more than" rather than "over," but the editors said "overwhelming usage" of both terms prompted the change. 

Those attending the conference didn't take the news well. A reporter from The Poynter Institute noted the announcement "elicited a gasp" from the assembled copy editors.

And reactions on Twitter bordered on hysteria, to say the least. While a few people defended the new rule, most of the amusing commentary about the decision was a mixture of anguish, rage, and despair. (Via Twitter / @yelvington, @DOBIEST, @JonZlock)

A couple of nerds even started replacing song lyrics to mock the new ambiguity. "More than the river and through the woods" — doesn't really have the same ring to it, does it? (Via Twitter / @Marley_Jay, @emfred)

The Atlantic explains the hubbub: "The insistence that over is not synonymous with more than is drilled into the eager skulls of first-year journalism students everywhere. ... [It] was stylistic conservatism that could be lorded over the uninitiated."

But for all the fury about the rule change, we have to ask: why is this even a thing?

Grammar Girl notes the preference for "more than" started with the style quirks of an 1877 newspaper editor and spread from there. "The majority of style pros attribute the objection to tradition and not actual grammar rules."

And the Columbia Journalism Review notes "over" has been used in dictionaries to refer to numerical quantities since the 14th century. "All those centuries of precedent would seem to make 'over' unexceptionable. Better still, natural."

Oh, and in case you were wondering, "under" and "less than" are now synonymous as well. As for us, we're more than over this controversy.

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