DEAR READER: 'Over' causes 'more than' a little stir at editing conference

Sunday, March 30, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:22 p.m. CDT, Friday, September 12, 2014

*CORRECTION: In the phrase "over the desk," "over" is a preposition. A previous version of this article misidentified the part of speech.

COLUMBIA — "More than my dead body" popped up in the twittersphere within a few minutes of The Associated Press' announcement that it's OK to use "over" interchangeably with "more than."

The debate still simmers in the copy editing world since that morning session at the American Copy Editors Society's annual conference in Las Vegas.

Over is a preposition* — as in "over the desk." It tells you where, a spatial definer. More than is used in counting — more than $6 billion, more than 30 people attended, more than you'll ever know.

David Minthorn and Darrell Christian, two of four AP employees who work on the stylebook, promised there wouldn't be any bombshells this year as they started announcing changes. But within minutes, they sent the room into shock with the over/more than announcement.

The reason for the change, they said, was the "overwhelming tide" of examples found in current writing. A bit later, they clarified the change to say that while it's allowed, as in, use over/more than as it suits you, it's not a required change.

The irony is that the over/more than usage is one of the most frequent fixes I make in editing copy, including from the AP.

If you look at the examples above, you can easily see why folks interchange the two terms. People often say "over 30 people attended the meeting," instead of "more than 30 people attended the meeting." And, "over my dead body" just doesn't translate well into "more than my dead body." And, what does, "over you'll never know" mean?

We haven't had a chance to discuss this or the other new AP changes in the newsroom yet — after all, it is spring break — but I'll keep you posted on the decisions. You might recall from previous columns, though, that the Missourian is an independent lot of editors. If we don't like an AP change, we simply ignore it or amend it to suit our needs. Our first resource when editing is our own stylebook.

The other AP changes announced, indeed as advertised, were not bombshells.

One of the most welcomed changes is the addition of a chapter of religious terms. The editors stripped the religion-related listings out of the general listings and added 30 more entries on the topic to create the new chapter. They also beefed up the food chapter with about three dozen new entries. And they indicated a willingness to look at the sports chapter, which was criticized for its sexist entries. For example, there are more than two pages of entries about baseball, but there isn't a single entry for softball. In addition, all of the sentences used as examples to illustrate usage only refer to men. 

It is so past time for AP to get over that — or should that be more than?

• • •

Congratulations to Katie Yaeger, a Missouri School of Journalism student, who was one of five scholarship winners at ACES. She has been a copy editor and reporter for the Columbia Missourian and a copy editing intern at the Orange County Register. This summer, Katie will be participating in the Dow Jones News Editing Internship Program as a copy editor for the Kansas City Star. She won a $1,000 scholarship from the ACES Education Fund. Winners were chosen from more than  55 applicants nationwide. 

• • •

Another highlight of the ACES conference was the screening of "A Fragile Trust," a documentary about the misbegotten journalism career and life of Jayson Blair. It was horrifying, eye-opening and even sympathetic at times. Blair was a liar, a conniver and a cheat, but he also struggled with a mental illness and drug and alcohol addictions. Throughout the movie, however, he says his health problems did not  cause his moral problems.

Mostly, though, the documentary serves as a reminder to all journalists and all readers to be vigilant against fabrications and plagiarism.

Luckily, Missourian readers, you have an outlet to report any such activities as well as those day-to-day typos, misspellings and factual errors through the Show Me the Errors contest. 

For February's contest there were 14 participants who submitted a total of 14 errors. We certainly appreciate their entries and interest in helping be as error free as possible. The winner for this month is Dan Elliott. He will receive a Missourian T-shirt and a copy of  "Yes, I Could Care Less" by Bill Walsh.

Maggie Walter is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and an interactive news editor at She's already looking forward to the 2015 ACES conference set for Pittsburgh. Of course, the anticipation includes catching up with cohorts in the editing world, but seeing the confluence of the Ohio, Monongahela and Allegheny rivers is high on the list, too. That little tidbit is remembered as one of her first U.S. geography lessons. Thanks, Dad.  

Like what you see here? Become a member.

Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


Thomas Dillingham March 30, 2014 | 10:37 a.m.

Something new every day: I have always thought of "over" as a preposition, in the company of "in," "on," "beside," "under" and so on. I see, however, that Editor Walter is correct--"over" is also an adverb in some contexts, or even an adjective or noun in other contexts. My question is, then, whether it is appropriate to label it an "adverb" in this column, implying that it is always or at least primarily an adverb, when that is certainly not the case. Or has the AP banished the prepositional use of "over" for some scoundrelly reason?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 30, 2014 | 1:15 p.m.

This controversy would appear to define "tempest in a teapot."

(Report Comment)

Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.