Here it is, the tweet that ended decades of global grammatical stability and secure stylistic norms:
AP Style tip: New to the Stylebook: over, as well as more than, is acceptable to indicate greater numerical value. #ACES2014— AP Stylebook (@APStylebook) March 20, 2014
In the new version of its venerated Stylebook, used by hundreds of news organizations across the country, the Associated Press will allow “over” as a synonym for “more than.”
In other words, it will now be acceptable to say—
There were over 78 crocodiles at the metallurgist’s convention.
Where it was previously only acceptable to say—
There were more than 78 crocodiles at the metallurgist’s convention.
According to Merriam-Webster lexicographer Peter Sokolowski, there were audible gasps when the change was announced. And for good reason: The insistence that over is not synonymous with more than is drilled into the eager skulls of first-year journalism students everywhere. Over, not more than, for many years, was stylistic conservatism that could be lorded over the uninitiated.
Now, the hegemony of “more than” is no more.
Sokolowski writes that the AP made the choice—or, perhaps more appropriately, the concession—because it decided it could no longer stand athwart history, shouting ‘More than!’ Everyday style simply uses the two words interchangeably, and the AP will now reflect the change.
"Under" can also mean "less than" in @APStylebook. "Overwhelming evidence" is cited. "It's futile to fight the tide."— Peter Sokolowski (@PeterSokolowski) March 20, 2014
This is not the only adjustment to the Stylebook. The AP will also recognize certain technological words, like Snapchat, emoji, and selfie. And perhaps some will lament that it was these words and their progenitors—the typing, tweeting masses, who settle for bastardized usages—that did “more than” in.
But it will be too late. The sense of numbers as as something with height, as a scale that rises and falls, has seeped into English. There is now over one way to say, in a stylistically acceptable fashion, that one number is greater than another.