Week Ten: Changeover

In 2012, conversational use of hopefully was approved.

In 2013, underway was embraced with little to no clamor.

In 2014, over won’t be quite as lucky.Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 5.24.27 PM

My dear friend, and former editor at The Kansas City Star, jokingly posted a news story to Facebook about the AP Stylebook editors’ decision to accept over in describing excessive numerical amounts as opposed to the longstanding favorite, more than. The responses were quick-witted and cranky. I’d expect nothing less from the most dedicated editor and writer types.

The tweets came even quicker. Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 5.20.57 PM

A frustrated insider sent a tongue-in-cheek tweet at 1:19 pm on Thursday, and by the time it was reprinted in this Poynter story at 5:52 p.m. it had been retweeted 332 times and favorited by 118 Twitter users.

For a word that’s used so commonly in conversation, why do we care so much when it’s replaced in writing?

It’s not just editors who care. Teachers care, too. After all, changes at AP will inevitably ripple out to other style manuals and set a new norm in the classroom. One teacher expressed her disagreement with the change in the comments section of the Poynter article.


Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 5.20.22 PM

A Ms. Bridget Grogan said: “Doesn’t fly with me. I will continue to teach my students to use “more than”. Common usage is the excuse? A lot of people are doing it wrong, so we will too? Sigh…”

Before indulging your urge to edit what Grogan wrote, think about why she might have written it. Is this preservation of language in the best interest of her students? She seems to think so.

In response to what she wrote, another commenter said: “Common usage is not the excuse, it is what dictates the rule. …Are you going to continue to teach your students those rules? Of course not. Because that’s no longer how we USE the language.”

For editing teachers, where do your pedagogical beliefs lie? The rules of usage or the rules language users create? From reading The Copyeditor’s Handbook, our students learned that this dispute is the old descriptivists vs. prescriptivists debate. The descriptivist, according to John Updike, “proposes no ideal of clarity in language or, beyond that, of grace, which might serve as an instrument of discrimination,” whereas the prescriptivists hold tight and fast to the artificiality of rules, which are crafted by “language mavens” from “bits of folklore” but “make no sense on any level” (Einsohn 338).

The AP Stylebook editors’ announcement of usage changes for three years running gives more ethos to the descriptivist camp, and I suspect that modern editing students will prefer to descriptivism. I wrapped up class by showing the Poynter news story on the projector board, a sort of parting thought. The students laughed. Apparently, they find the change unworthy of so much clamor.

Or perhaps, they noticed the apocalyptic comments at the bottom stating that this is over most can bear.



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