Opinion

OPINION: No known cure for pedanticitus

American Press editors have decided
American Press editors have decided 'over' is fine for 'more than.' This news gave some of those suffering from pedanticitis high blood pressure.
— image credit: Poynter.org

My friend and former colleague Cornelia Naylor is suffering from a tragic condition with no cure.

On Sunday I exchanged texts with her as the two of us are training for a half marathon and that day we had to run 21 kilometres. She said the run was tough on her as she had no water and it was 19C out.

I responded: “You should have drank from the river!”

Her response to me?

“Drunk. Geez! I’m gone a couple of weeks and your grammar goes all to hell.”

Drink. Drank. Drunk.

You see, Cornelia, an otherwise beam of sunshine, suffers from an undiagnosed condition. It’s called pedanticitus and it may just kill her.

I fear for her blood pressure or that she’ll bring on an aneurysm after someone says “I ran less times this week than last.”

“Fewer!!!!” she will exclaim. (Yes, too many exclamation points.)

Pedanticitus is not in the DSM IV and doctors aren’t recognizing it, but it can cause hardships to be sure. Relationships can be shattered, and otherwise civil discussions can disintegrate into personal attacks.

Cornelia’s particular fetish is the less/fewer distinction, one that is all too lost on many people. Sportscasters are particularly afflicted.

I may write for a living, but I concede my grammar needs work. I too, however, suffer from mild bouts of pedanticitus.

“How are you doing?” one might ask.

“Good,” is the response, causing me to die a little on the inside.

You might feel “good” but you are doing “well.”

So who cares?

Wordsmiths tore each up a little bit recently south of the border when, akin to the less/fewer issue, the Associated Press Stylebook editors decided that “over” is now fine when referring to a quantity. Writers and editors are no longer required to use “more than” in that instance.

“More than my dead body!” exclaimed one scribe on Twitter.

“This is over I can bear,” said another.

The change was made by AP editors based on common usage. As in, it was used incorrectly for so long that editors finally gave up correcting it. Or, the other argument goes, this is how language evolves. There are two sides and a lot of grey area in between.

Prescriptivists, like Bridge Grogan who commented on the story on the Poynter Institute’s website, just won’t have it.

“Doesn’t fly with me. I will continue to teach my students to use ‘more than’. Common usage is the excuse? A lot of people are doing it wrong, so we will too? Sigh…”

Descriptivists like Grant Cooper says language and science each have rules, rules that must change as time goes on.

“The pedantic scribe class, to which I and many of us belong, tends to quibble and protest these changes, despite the futility of the resistance. The shore resists the waves, yet it will eventually yield.”

A further argument for the descriptivists is that English used to be a lot more complicated.

“Verrily! Thou hast spoken truth. Thine anger is well-served. Wroth do I grow, to see my tongue so besmirched. Language changes, get used to it,” said one commenter (who spelled verily wrong).

And does it really matter to the classes of social media users who type and communicate with such speed that punctuation, spelling and proper word use go out the window? You want grammar too? LOL.

As the years go on, and social media takes over, fewer of us will likely suffer from pedanticitus.

Maybe there is hope for Cornelia, but I can picture her, 20 years hence, head in hands, with less patience than ever and fewer days left on this mortal coil.

More than? Over her dead body.

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