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Barbarians at the gates of our language

By From page A2 | March 30, 2014

The barbarians are at the gates and our guards let them in!

The loser? The English language, because here’s what they’ve done: Decided that “over” and “more than” mean the same thing.

It’s heresy! And copy editors are revolting. (Literally. Just thinking about them makes me gag!)

But that’s another issue. I’m concerned about the latest update from the gurus who control The Associated Press Stylebook, which most newspaper writers consider the authority on all issues concerning word use. The esteemed organization this month announced that it is now acceptable to use either “over” or “more than” to indicate a greater numerical value.

Seriously. Can you believe it? Neither can I.

Any writer worth his or her salt knows that “over” indicates a spacial relationship (“the plane flew over the farm,”) and “more than” indicates a greater numeric value (“more than 100 people were angry when The Associated Press decided to allow heresy.”)

Now they mean the same thing. You can say someone got over $20 million and not be slapped by a copy editor. How are copy editors supposed to get out their frustration now?

Reports of the change brought to mind one of my college journalism professors, who frequently used the “barbarians at the gates” phrase to describe people trying to dumb down the language. He insisted that journalists – and others who write – have a duty to uphold the higher levels of word use. It’s a holy war!

However, this isn’t the first time a beloved editing rule has changed.

When I returned to the Daily Republic after a few years away, I immediately tried to correct someone who used the noun “backyard” as one word, rather than two. “It’s only one word when it’s an adjective,” I said. “You go into your back yard, but someone is your backyard neighbor.”

Turns out, that rule changed while I was gone. Backyard was now one word in all cases. Obscene.

Shortly thereafter, the AP Stylebook changed the use of “under way.” It’s now one word in all uses. The baseball season will get underway this weekend. Ridiculous.

Of course, this is a nerdy word-guy issue, right?

Well, wrong.

Definitions are important. If you don’t believe that, try going to court sometime to argue that a contract should be what you meant, not what it said. And when you tell a judge that you meant you wanted your deck to be under $1,000, but your contractor charged you $8,000, then showed you a photo of a stack of $20 bills on a table on the deck – you’ll realize why I’m right.

Unless, of course, the judge follows the new AP style, in which case you win. But see? It’s important!

We all have favorite phrases that irritate us when they’re used wrong. Daily Republic Managing Editor Glen Faison growls when someone uses “regarding” when it should be “concerning.” I hate when people use “of” following “myriad,” because it’s redundant and wrong.

But the over/more than change is worse. It’s changing a basic truth.

I don’t think I’ll get over it. Or perhaps I should say “I don’t think I’ll get more than it,” since they mean the same thing now.


Reach Brad Stanhope at 427-6958 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bradstanhope.

Brad Stanhope

Brad Stanhope

Brad Stanhope is a former Daily Republic editor. He began his career at the DR in the last millennium. He spent 24 years as a sports editor, associate editor and news editor before leaving the Daily Republic in 2014. Brad lives in Suisun City with his wife, Mrs. Brad, and two sons. He enjoys cheese.

Discussion | 23 comments

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  • Interesting Google.... Wikipedia Terry Jones' BarbariansMarch 30, 2014 - 6:14 am

    Terry Jones' Barbarians is a 4-part TV documentary series first broadcast on BBC 2 in 2006. It was written and presented by Terry Jones, and it challenges the received Roman and Roman Catholic notion of the barbarian....Professor Barry Cunliffe of the University of Oxford acted as consultant for the series......Around 400 AD, two Barbarian babies were born. One would grow up to become the most feared of all - Attila the Hun. The other, Geiseric, led the Vandals whom history has cast as destroyers. Jones claims that Roman civilization wasn't destroyed by the invasion of these tribes, but by the loss of the North African tax base. He sees the common view of Rome and "Barbarians" as a result of the Roman Catholic Church popularizing the Roman version of the truth.....Non-sequitur ..... Moral of the Story..... Nothing is sure but death and taxes or lack of a tax base leading to death by Barbarians so Please Please Government officials raise our taxes till we can not afford to pay them any/more and we all starve and once again this leads to death by Barbarians?

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  • Monty Python - Tax On Thingy For rlw he likes taxes!March 30, 2014 - 6:04 pm


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  • Communist Quiz sketchMarch 30, 2014 - 6:36 pm


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  • Well rlw.... should we tax them too ? ( then the goverment can provide a subsidy also ! )March 30, 2014 - 6:38 pm


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  • WeaverwomanMarch 30, 2014 - 8:55 am

    Brad, I see you accept the use of pronouns at the end of sentences. Such usage, as I have been taught, is not just improper usage, but is also considered "slang". We all use slang in an effort to simplify our conversations. Placing all our words in the "proper" order would make for some extremely long conversations. I do agree with you concerning the butchery of the American English Language causing the twisting of intent which can make one cringe or giggle on occasion.

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  • Brad StanhopeMarch 30, 2014 - 4:15 pm

    Do you mean prepositions? (at, on, etc.) I've never heard about not using pronouns at the end of a sentence, but it might be because of where I learned it at. (Nyuk, nyuk).

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  • WeaverwomanMarch 30, 2014 - 5:26 pm

    ack! Yes, I did mean prepositions. heeheehee Oh well, all for naught. You have never heard of a misplaced preposition? With texting slaughtering all words, it just doesn't matter anymore. ;~}

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  • Downfall of GrammarApril 04, 2014 - 11:02 am


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  • CD BrooksMarch 30, 2014 - 9:11 am

    Hey Brad! We "talk American," and any resemblance to some foreign English version vanished long ago.

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  • mike kirchubelMarch 30, 2014 - 9:31 am

    I've thought, since grammar school, that the true purpose of language was to be able to commnicate thoughts from one person to another. I can tell you that more than one editor here has used the AP bible to crush my dreams of doing just that. Over one editor at the D.R. has turne sense into nonsense and clever wordplay into a funny joke on me, all to the detriment of communication. My advice, check with your writers before mangling their hard work.

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  • FrancophileMarch 30, 2014 - 2:03 pm

    Poor baby. Why is everybody always picking on you?

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  • mike kirchubelMarch 30, 2014 - 2:18 pm

    Ah, a Coasters fan. Me too. Just call me, "Charlie Brown."

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  • Shut your cake hole MichaelMarch 30, 2014 - 2:33 pm

    Your distress is caused by you, being a less than achiever?

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  • ?March 30, 2014 - 2:39 pm

    We are all under perfect, you know.

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  • NFSD...Flogging Molly- The Worst Day Since Yesterday LyricsMarch 30, 2014 - 6:58 pm


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  • patrickMarch 30, 2014 - 12:03 pm

    Spanish is the language of love----English is the language of law because it is the most precise of all. French is the language of diplomacy. A French diplomat can tell you can go to hell in such away that you actually look forward to the trip.

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  • FrancophileMarch 30, 2014 - 2:01 pm

    Au contraire, patrick, French, not English, is the most precise language and this is the reason it is used for most diplomatic communications. The French have language police to keep the language pure. And French words are always pronounced the way the spelling dictates. English? Gallagher had a good line something to the effect that how can we expect newcomers to learn our language when we have words like "go" pronounced one way and "do" pronounced another. And why is it we park in the driveway and drive in the parkway?

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  • patrickMarch 30, 2014 - 3:17 pm

    explain the difference between "either" and "or"

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  • G brumbaughMarch 30, 2014 - 3:39 pm

    We have the choice to use either or or either. :))

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  • patrickMarch 30, 2014 - 4:02 pm

    "or: means you have 2 choices one or the other:"either" means you have multiple choices

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  • Peter Gabriel - Sledgehammer lyrics ( Not )April 04, 2014 - 11:09 am


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  • Squirrel Olympics Squirrel being a Barbarian at the gateApril 01, 2014 - 7:15 am


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  • Wikipedia....Grain supply to the city of RomeApril 01, 2014 - 8:16 am

    Moral of the Story.... Bread and Circuses become very important in the control of populations... We should ask ourselves.... Who is in control of this really?

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