October 2009  
UpWrite Press Writing eTips

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"Thanks to words, we have been able to rise above the brutes; and thanks to words, we have often sunk to the level of the demons."

- Aldous Huxley

Word Pair of the Month: over, more than

Rosalind Hebert, CPS/CAP, suggested our word pair of the month. She wrote:

I review and edit many documents in which these two words are used incorrectly. Many writers express increasing numbers in such phrases as “Over 55 percent of the people…” instead of “More than 55 percent of the people…”

“Over” is a preposition and indicates placement or location, as in “over the mountain” or “over there.” “More than” indicates an amount greater than another. For example, one would write, “More than 300 people attended the meeting,” not “Over 300 people attended the meeting.”

What a great topic! In our research, we've discovered that using "over" before numbers has been frowned on in the U.S. since 1877, when William Cullen Bryant, editor of the New York Evening Post, instituted the "rule" for his editors. In British writing, however, no such distinction is made between “over” and “more than.” Even in the U.S., we are apt to say, "He is over ninety years old" or "We waited over two hours."

In such matters of style, our advice is to learn these finer points and use them wisely - to make the best impression in your writing. Remember, however, that usage rules change over time and that disagreement is common. A fair level of tolerance for others’ “errors” is well advised.

Thank you for the opportunity to address this word pair, Rosalind!

October Writer's Forum Question

OK, all you commuters out there: What do you do with your commuting time? How is your activity dependent on your mode of travel? Share, please - we could all use our time a little more efficiently.

Janelle Hetisimer, Director of Human Resources for the First National Bank of Georgia, writes:

I have always commuted more than an hour to and from work. I use the time several different ways. I may take care of personal business via cell phone or return business calls. I also listen to motivational CDs or tapes during my commute. This is a great way to "get set" for the morning or to "de-stress" on the way home.

Noni Adelkind is lucky to live where there is good mass transit and spends her commute time on the train. She writes:

I live three blocks from a commuter train, and it’s the only way to go! I enjoy a leisurely ride to and from work. I avoid traffic and get caught up on my morning newspaper, arriving at work relaxed and ready to go. Then on the way home I can read a book or play video games, losing the stress of the day.

Robert Jaworsky, however, isn’t so lucky. He has to drive to his job in rural South Dakota, but he still uses his time wisely:

My job is 40 country miles away from home, so I have lots of time in the car. My kids recently bought me a language-learning CD, and I have been using my commute time to learn German. There was a method to their madness - my office has a branch in Germany, and my bosses are thrilled with my project. They’ve even started asking me to sit in on phone conferences in case they need some clarification.

Not all commuting is done by motor transportation, as we learned from Kyle Parker, who lives and works as an ad account representative in Manhattan:

Living in the city doesn’t mean I have to ride in a polluting vehicle! I work across town and have found a bike the most efficient means of getting around. I ride even in winter, except when the snow is too deep to get through. I actually make better time than I would in a car, and the health benefit is an added bonus. Aside from the money I save on car or bus-fare costs, I save even more because I don’t have to join a gym. Can’t beat it!

A Final Thought

Notebook computers are getting ever smaller, making them terrific accessories for work on the run. But convenience comes with a price. Yes, keyboards are shrinking, but our fingers aren’t, and it’s even easier now to mistype or to hit two keys at once. That makes proofreading even more critical. So before printing or sending out documents, double-check every sentence for errors.

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