The big news of the ACES 2014 conference so far: The Associated Press just announced that its stylebook no longer prohibits the use of “over” in the sense of “more than” (e.g., “That price is $6 over my budget.”).
Why were copy editors gasping? The AP Stylebook is the default rulebook for many copy editors in the news industry — and, by extension, some editors in public relations and marketing. And this is a liberalization of those rules, which tend to be (in my opinion) needlessly prescriptive. Those gasping editors were either shocked that AP would endorse such a sensible reform or appalled that AP has given up this hallowed ground.
But what difference does it really make? Not much. If you’re a fan of saying “more than” with numerals rather than “over,” keep doing it. It’s not wrong, and the change to AP’s style concedes that. If you want to insist that your publication never use “over” with a numeral, make an in-house style rule. A lot of copy editors forget they can do that. Instead, they regard the AP Stylebook as a sort of sacred bible that must be followed, and I think that’s ceding a lot of power to an institution whose priorities aren’t necessarily the same as their publications’. Plus, some of AP style just doesn’t make sense.
I’d also argue that this sort of peevish obsession on the part of copy editors diminishes their reputation, and it feeds a disconnect between their perceived importance and their actual importance. In an era when news organizations are scrambling to reduce expenses — and when copy editors are bearing a disproportionate amount of that reduction — we need to fight our OCD tendencies that suggest the most important things to us are the smallest of peeves. Whether we write “over” or “more than” matters to a vanishing percentage of our readers. It should matter to a vanishing percentage of us.