Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt
“What? You’re over me? When were you … under me?”
—Ross Gellar, “Friends”
Don’t return a phone call until at least 48 hours later. A man should have to pay for every date. Play hard to get. There’s only one fish in the sea for each person. Online dating is just for nerds. These are all old rules of dating that aren’t necessarily true or valid anymore. Does that mean I’m not romantic or chivalrous? That could be, but I prefer to consider myself “pragmatic.”
Just like some dating rules seem either outdated (pun intended) or completely made up, we have at least a handful of grammar rules that mostly reflect antiquated guidelines written by a long-dead white guy. This isn’t an attack on long-dead white guys, nor is it an assault on long-standing rules. There are many examples of dead white guys as well as old rules that we should still respect and admire.
One contentious rule that has changed (or at least delved into at least a dozen shades of gray) in the past decade is the usage of “more than” and “over.” I contend that the argument between “more than” and “over” isn’t a clash of rules, but merely a difference in styles. According to the old “rule,” use “more than” when you’re talking about numbers: “I watched more than 15 episodes of ‘The Good Place’ in one sitting.” By the same “rule,” the following sentence would be considered incorrect: “I watched over 15 episodes of ‘The Good Place’ in one sitting.”
Even if you adhere to this long-standing guideline of grammar style, do you know why? William Cullen Bryant, a 19th-century poet and the editor of the New York Evening Post, declared that this usage was his preferred style. Based on his editorial clout, other style and usage guides followed suit, including the AP Stylebook — until 2014.
When the good people who decide on the style guidelines for the AP Stylebook abandoned this rule, editors started an electronic Twitter riot with their outrage. This style change reflected an already popular usage in culture. While I’m sure editors across the U.S. still twitch when they see “over” and “more than” used interchangeably, I appreciate the relaxing of this rule, which was basically someone’s glorified preference from over a hundred years ago.
As in the rules of dating, rules of grammar change, as they should when culture and norms shift. And, the fact of the matter is, staying on top of your grammar game will help you succeed in your love life.