On Thursday, the editors of the AP Stylebook shocked the communication and journalism world by announcing that its new edition would say that over, as well as more than, is acceptable to indicate greater numerical value.
When I read this, I had to make sure that it was not April 1. Then I needed to make sure I wasn’t reading the Onion or @fakeapstylebook.
As a professional communicator. I am outraged and disheartened by the decision. Over is a locative. It refers to a spatial relationship. The cow jumped over the moon. More than deals with numerical value.
The reason the editors of the AP Stylebook give for this benighted decision in the stories I have read is overwhelming evidence that people use them both interchangeably.
This does not hold water with me.
I can also point of overwhelming evidence that I see people use the following interchangeably (or at least incorrectly) as well:
- their, there, they’re
- accept, except
- insure, ensure
Just because people use words inaccurately or incorrectly does not mean we need to codify it in a guide for professional communicators. Relativism is not appropriate when it comes to proper grammar. The AP Stylebook describes itself as “a must-have reference for writers, editors, students and professionals. It provides fundamental guidelines for spelling, language, punctuation, usage and journalistic style. It is the definitive resource for journalists.” As such, shouldn’t it maintain high standards and work to counter linguistic malaise rather than throw in the towel? Millions of people are now using “u” instead of “you” but if I was a cardiologist or a bank, I wouldn’t use that when communicating with clients.
I fully understand that language is dynamic and constantly evolves. The editors of the AP Stylebook also announced that “selfie” is now acceptable. That makes sense. But when we as a society and as communicators sacrifice precision and clarity in our speech, we begin to sacrifice precision and clarity in our thoughts. This is not a good thing and I would encourage the AP Stylebook editors to reconsider their decision.
The defenders of this change say that people can continue to use “more than” if they want to. But if we encourage people to ignore AP style in one instance, we are eroding its authority and usefulness. What’s next, capitalizing titles after commas?
The one good thing to come from this is that it presents us with a teachable moment. I took full advantage of it last night. My nine year old and six year old sons now know “over is a locative.”
What do you think? Is this much ado about nothing, or is this a decision that should be reconsidered?