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?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bradstanhope.