I recently got a listener question about “more than” and “over”:
”Hi, Mignon. My name is Andrea. About 20 years ago, my husband Brian and I were working as reporters at a local newspaper. For the style guide they were very specific when talking about an amount of money such as more than or less than $1 million. We were not allowed to use the words “over” or “under” because they signified a position, a physical position in space like over or under a bridge. Recently, I’ve noticed that a lot of news outlets and television shows are using the “over a million” and “under a million,” and I was just wondering if this was something specific to the newspaper we were working at or if it’s a change in style overall. Thanks, Mignon. Love the Podcast. Bye.”
You’re not imagining it, and news outlets haven’t gotten more sloppy. There was a change in Associated Press style.
If you’re the type of person who pays super close attention to the AP Stylebook updates every year, one of the most attention grabbing changes in 2014 was to the entry on “more than” and “over.” Before 2014, AP writers followed the style you learned at your local paper: never use “over” or “under” to talk about numbers. You were supposed to use “more than” or “less than.” But in 2014, the AP Stylebook changed to say you can write it either way—that both are acceptable in all uses to indicate a greater or lesser numerical value. Examples:
- Salaries went up more than $20 a week.
- Salaries went up over $20 a week.
- The stock fell to less than $40 per share.
- The stock fell to under $40 per share.
Both are fine now.
There was some mild rumbling, but the real ruckus happened on Twitter. Before the talk was even over, Matthew Crowley from the Las Vegas Review-Journal announced to the room that somebody had already tweeted “more than my dead body.” [Get it? That’s a joke because “more than” can’t be substituted for “over” in “over my dead body.”]