Friday, April 02, 2010

Sky unfalls, pits of hell unyawn

The nice folks at Wichita are welcome (indeed, encouraged) to check in on this, but I speculate there was some concern over this raw burst of headline audacity: Using "over" instead of "more than" with a number. I mean, everybody knows that "over" refers only to spatial relationships!* So sayeth the holy writ!**

So there may well have been some trepidation, and everybody closed their*** eyes, and then someone pushed the button, and ... the heavens did not darken. Because, well -- why should they have? The hed says what it wants to, and (much as you or I might prefer the sound of "more than," which I do here) there's no evidence on the face of God's green English under which to declare "over $200,000" wrong. And thus, perhaps, does another secret handshake of the editing cult die a lonely death.

Long term, there's a reasonably valuable takeaway point in there.**** Editors are grownups who have a pretty good idea of how to use their native language. When push comes to shove and the clock is running, perhaps we should let them say "over $200,000" in a narrow hed without getting the old knickers into a wad.

Thoughts? I'm genuinely interested in feedback on this one (that being the whole point of the paper that went in last night). Should we stop teaching the "over"/"more than" distinction if we promise to teach some real grammar instead? Hit the comment button and talk.

* Except the spatial relationship between Britain and the US, in which it's sort of like "Flint Hill Spatial." Yes, the world would be a better place if Lester Flatt were secretary of state.
** The one I cited was Friend, Challenger and McAdams, "Contemporary Editing"; I'd welcome other specific references.
*** Copy editors are slightly but not significantly more likely to approve "everybody/their" than "anybody/their." You heard it here first.
**** Yes, the aforementioned deadline was met. Virtual Heidelberg!

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15 Comments:

Anonymous Dan Golden said...

It fits, it's not confusing, says what you want it to say, and deadline is met.
Success all around, I say.

10:26 PM, April 02, 2010  
Blogger Jan said...

You know how I feel about this "rule," which I investigated for my annotated edition of Bierce's "Write It Right." But let me share the rant I ranted there: The rule is "as mythical as the unicorn. 'Over' has meant 'more than' for a thousand years; the usage has never been wrong, except in the glazed eyes of editors and English teachers who drank the Kool-Aid [editor William Cullen] Bryant and Bierce were serving. It may be that only the death of the newspaper will kill off this parasitic superstition; dictionaries and common sense have so far had no effect."

We should stop teaching it even if we *don't* teach real grammar instead. There's a value to not wasting time, after all.

10:42 PM, April 02, 2010  
Anonymous thomas said...

We should stop teaching it even if we *don't* teach real grammar instead.

Preach it, sister!

12:07 AM, April 03, 2010  
Blogger Cori said...

The hed is mine ... and I am usually diligent in the more than thing, but it just had to fit. I still teach the "prefer more than when it's not spatial" (I think it sounds better most of the time) but sometimes reality calls for drastic measures. I bit the bullet, used the word over, the sky didn't fall (but the heavens were already dark), and ended up with a headline that said what it needs to. Thanks for the kudos!

12:45 PM, April 03, 2010  
Blogger Caran said...

I appreciate common-sense editing. No one would misunderstand "over" in this context.

I will add that I've read "Write it Right," and was thrilled to find the entry Jan quoted above. It will take more than the death of newspapers to kill off this superstition, though. In the editing I do (formal writing for journals) "more than" still rules.

1:35 PM, April 03, 2010  
Blogger Scott Swafford said...

I think "over" works just fine in this headline. Call me a stickler, but the dangling preposition "in" bothers me MORE THAN "over." That's another rule from the Stone Age, I know, but how 'bout this:

Ethredge
back taxes
more than
$200,000

2:09 PM, April 03, 2010  
Blogger Scott Swafford said...

Or:

Etheredge's
back taxes
more than
$200,0000

2:54 PM, April 03, 2010  
Blogger Scott Swafford said...

Except without the extra E in Ethredge:

Ethredge's
back taxes
more than
$200,000

2:56 PM, April 03, 2010  
Anonymous carmen hill said...

I like the original better. Owes is much stronger than implied "are."
- carmen

5:02 PM, April 03, 2010  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

You have no idea how long it took me to realize that when you said "dangling preposition" you meant visually!

7:26 PM, April 03, 2010  
Blogger fev said...

Ah, the days before columns got narrower and heds got maniacally bigger -- it was a lot easier to make a case for deft phrasing then.

Good to hear from everybody. Scott, how's business at the old place?

8:41 PM, April 03, 2010  
Blogger Scott Swafford said...

Things are good but typically hectic at the Missourian. Mired in election season. Pretty exhausting semester.

Hope all is well with you.

9:50 PM, April 03, 2010  
Blogger Rebecca said...

This is one of those rules that I've always imagined were made up in times past by bored over-experienced copy editors to make the young ones feel even more inept. How can anyone who actually knows English say with a straight face that over is strictly a spacial concept?

2:48 AM, April 04, 2010  
Blogger Brian Cubbison said...

I've always been frustrated by this "rule." (And also the one that says a period should go inside a quote.) Stocks go up. The temperature goes down. Why shouldn't a number be over another? I can think of a few cases where there might be confusion. The race was over five miles. You deal with those when they come up.

12:59 PM, April 04, 2010  
Blogger techwriter said...

No one misunderstands it--no one misunderstands "She ain't gonna do it no how" either, but that doesn't mean it belongs in a newspaper. As a techwriter, I hear all of the time "well, that's how I've seen it done before" as the standard of how to write. If "professional" writers can't do it correctly, how can we expect anyone else to?

2:17 PM, April 10, 2010  

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