The AP Stylebook governs journalists, marketing communications and PR professionals alike and has been known for decades for its rigid stances on the minutiae of grammar, punctuation and spelling. It’s often the final arbiter when it comes to a debate over what to call undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. (“illegal immigrants” was banned from its list of sanctioned terms a year ago) and seemingly contradictory rules governing how to abbreviate geographical names (U.S. vs EU, for example).
More than or over?
The Associated Press recently announced that it was overturning a decades-old rule to allow the use of either more than or over when talking about numerical values, such as: “The company recorded more than $3 billion in revenue last quarter.” The former rule dictated the use of “more than” only.
In theory at least, I’m something of an AP style purist, if there is such a thing, so I side with the legions of journalists and copy editors who are currently a bit disgruntled over what seems to be a loosening of proper standards. After all, “over” originated as a directional term, meaning “higher than.” Under the old rules, “more than” always meant “greater than.”
Does the AP Stylebook evolve?
Nevertheless, the change to the official AP rule is in the usage of more than or over interesting to me because it shows that the AP views its Stylebook as a living organism, one that grows and changes – and one that reflects common grammar usage and word choice actually happening in the real world. As society becomes more colloquial in both the spoken and written word, the rules journalists and communications professionals are expected to adhere to seem to be changing as well.
Why does it even matter what the AP Stylebook deems correct? It doesn’t, in the big scheme of things, because the average person won’t catch the minor error here and there.
But the attention the AP Stylebook pays – and requires its adherents to pay – to the proper way to do things is important in all types of marketing and PR communications. A misused word or misplaced punctuation probably isn’t going to cost a restaurant business, but it could cause a prospective client of business in a professional services industry to wonder about that firm’s attention to detail and professionalism.
In any case, regardless of your industry, you don’t want something as simple as a misplaced comma to leave readers of your ads, website or marketing brochures wondering what you meant. After all, as the old copyediting joke goes, there’s a huge difference between “Let’s eat, Grandma” and “Let’s eat Grandma.” We wouldn’t want your business communications to suffer from a similarly unfortunate misunderstanding.