“Over” === “More Than” according to the AP

The Associated Press has updated its style guide to indicate that it is acceptable to use “over” in place of “more than.”

Previously, journalists were taught to use “over” in reference to location and “more than” when discussing quantities. For example, you couldn’t write “there were over 500 people” because it would prompt questions such as, “There were what over 500 people? Birds? Planes?”

Well, maybe. I suppose you would get such a question from a journalist who does not want to accept that over can refer to quantity, and does refer to quantity in most people’s use of the English language.

I was once one of those journalists. Even years after leaving a daily paper, I still cringe when I see “over” used in this way. A couple of years ago, I was even writing a somewhat funny blog post here about the difference between “over” and “more than.” But before I finished, I ran across another blog post that defended the quantitative use of the word “over” so well that I could not deny it. But I did not have to publicly agree with it. I saved the draft, never published my blog post on the topic, and continued cringing whenever I read “over 200 students,” and changed it to “more than” whenever I was editing a document.

So now the AP has relented and changed the rules. It hurt my feelings at first, but I’ll get more than over it eventually.