John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
The AP Stylebook: Repository of extinct rules
Q. I've found that the online version of the AP Stylebook frequently does not adhere to AP rules regarding "over" and "more than." For example, on your home page for subscribers, there's a reference to "over 450 entries." I've seen this type of error several times in your online stylebook. The printed version always is accurate, however. What gives? – from Salem, OR on Thu, Jul 02, 2009
A. The home page now says: More than 460 pages, updated annually. Thank you for the reminder.
[Sound of steam escaping under pressure]
If the editors of the stylebook choose to waste their time on this, well, I have no authority over them. But their devotion to time-wasting non-rules — I won’t call it obstinacy — has unfortunate effects on the craft.
Somewhere today, one of our last surviving copy editors, a species more endangered than the Javan rhinoceros or the Kemp’s Ridley Turtle, is changing an over to more than and imagining that that constitutes editing. It is not. It is rather an adherence to what Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage calls “a hoary American newspaper tradition” dating back to William Cullen Bryant, despite over and more than having been used interchangeably in English since the fourteen century.
Merriam-Webster’s concludes: “There is no reason why you should avoid this usage.” There is also no reason that the AP should continue to trot put this pointless dictum. And there is absolutely no reason that a hard-pressed copy editor should pay any attention to it.