Which is correct: Over 10 bananas, or more than 10 bananas? Either is OK now, as far as the Associated Press is concerned.
The AP incited fury among copy editors and style sticklers Thursday when it upended its decades-old style rule to let wordsmiths write either "more than" or "over" when assigning numerical values.
But as one journalist in Tacoma, Wash. put it, there could be an "uprising."
The AP Stylebook, the Bible for many journalists, had long warned writers not to use "over" when describing anything that had to do with numbers. (Did you eat 11 bananas? Then you ate more than 10 bananas — not over 10, at least before Thursday.)
"Over," under old AP rules, meant "higher than," such as jumping over a bench. And "more than" had meant "greater than."
But apparently seeing that people weren't obeying the old rule anyway, the AP announced the shocking switch and said either term was acceptable — much to the chagrin of many journalists who wanted to cling to tradition. Andrew Beaujon from the respected Poynter Institute predicted copy editors would be rocked to their cores.
The jokes and the indignation abounded.
AP changed its "over/more than" rule. In similar news, my whole journalism editing career is a lie. — Tony Dobies (@DOBIEST) March 20, 2014
Not everyone was stuck in their old ways, though.
Merriam-Webster lexicographer Peter Sokolowski, who attended the AP session where the decision was made, said via Twitter that there was "overwhelming evidence" that writers were using the two interchangeably, anyway.
"It’s futile to fight the tide," he tweeted, noting that there were audible gasps at the news.
He also knew the decision would not be taken lightly. "More than my dead body," he said one copy editor told him.
The old aversion to "over" appears to go back more than a century. According to the "Grammar Girl" website, poet and one-time New York Evening Post editor William Cullen Bryant decided in 1877 that he disapproved of using "over" instead of "more than" before a number.