Making Sense of the Media
2:55 pm
Sat March 29, 2014

Making Sense of 'Over' and 'More Than'

Credit Associated Press

Be advised. This story may seem to have a high nerd potential.  But it really does have a lot of significance to news consumers in the digital age.

A furor was unleashed recently when the Associated Press announced to a convention of newspaper copy editors that its stylebook -- the usage bible for editors everywhere -- was going to allow the use of both "over" and "more than" to describe an amount.

Believe it or not, this change cut deep for the men and women who spend their working hours trying to be precise in their use of language.

"If you listen to the copy editors, this is a significant change," Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute's "Sense-Making Project," explained. "In the past, those of us who had to pass the A.P. style test to get out of Copy Editing 101 in J-school, this rule was drilled into us. You use the word 'over' when you're talking about the physical relationship of something. I am standing 'over' you. And you use 'more than' when you're talking about numbers. It costs 'more than' ten dollars. There are many of us who never got this rule right, especially when it came to numbers, and feel like you can communicate what you mean without the pickiness over these small words. However, copy editors make the point that precision is very important in language and that when you lose precision you actually lose your ability to communicate."

While the explosion of words on the internet is a good thing -- there are a lot more ideas and information being expressed by a lot more people -- quality, precise writing has to be searched for more these days.

"I like to use the metaphor of wine," said McBride. "When I was a kid, we had very few options if you wanted to buy wine. There were, maybe, 20 or 30 varieties in the supermarket. Now you go into the supermarket and you have an entire aisle, both sides, filled with wine. A lot of that wine is pretty mediocre. It's all around 20 bucks a bottle. It doesn't cost that much and it's  palatable but it's not great.  I think that our news diet is very similar. Most of the stuff we see is fairly mediocre. It was created quickly. It doesn't have a lot of resonance. And we really only get to the really great stuff every once in a while.  That's just because there's so much stuff out there that you really have to work to find a finely crafted editorial or essay or even a straight news article."