12.20.2010

Teaching Without Tazers: "More Than" vs. "Over"


Don't you hate bloggers who refer to their blogs all the time? It's really just the semi-grown-up, online version of what teenagers do. I am constantly trying to beat it out of my students--you know, this urge to continually write about their writing. I call it writing self-consciously, and I ban it in my classroom. Force of [bad] habit makes teenagers spend a lot of time writing things like this:

In this essay I am going to tell you....
As you can see from what I wrote in the previous paragraphs....
In conclusion, I think I used good evidence to show....


Dentists, last I heard, still hold the dubious honor of being the profession with the highest suicide rate; I contend that English teachers who actually read and grade student essays must be catching up. I can't see how we're not at least giving dentists a good run for that record.

The reason I bring this up is that I am about to do something that I find incomprehensibly annoying when I see it on other blogs. I am going to blog about my blog. But only for a moment, and only as a starting point for a brief yet important lesson on one of my Wild Peeves. Stick with me here; this will be pretty painless (unlike your last visit to Dr. Yankatooth). So here we go with the annoying self-conscious self-promotion:

Earlier today the Happy Dog blog hit the 1,000 page views mark!

So what? Well, besides the fact that I'm pretty stoked to get this kind of traffic after only 39 days, it also gives me an opportunity to school you in one teeny, tiny misusage that gets under my skin.

Imagine I tell you that I reached 1,000 page views.

If you liked me, you would probably say something like, “Over 1,000 page views? That's awesome.”

And if I liked you, I would probably reply something like, “Thanks. Yeah, I'm pretty stoked.”

And if I didn't like you, I would have to bite my tongue to keep from saying, “No, I don't have OVER 1,000 page views. I have MORE THAN 1,000 page views.”

It's a small, small thing, I know. And perhaps I am a small, small person for even caring about this. And I am not even going to look up what the current stance is on this by famous or wanna-be-famous grammarians. Because I don't CARE what they say. Lots of things become proper usage through incessant misusage, and I am digging in my heels against it. Therefore, on the whole OVER vs. MORE THAN issue, let me break it down for you.

In what I consider to be its purest usage, OVER should function primarily as a preposition in a prepositional phrase that shows the relationship between two things.

The horseshoe hung over the door.
(shows current relationship of horseshoe to door)
She spread the chocolate frosting over the cake.
(shows current relationship of frosting to cake)
Your mother is coming to visit over my dead body.
(shows future relationship of marriage)

Yes, you can use OVER as an adverb instead of a preposition, as in,
The smell of your cologne makes me want to keel over.
But even then, OVER is being used basically to show physical positioning and direction. Which way will I keel? Over.

When we are talking numbers, quantities, amounts, monies, I much prefer MORE THAN. That's what MORE is for: to say that there exists a greater number, quantity or amount of something. The following sentences include both OVER and MORE THAN and may be illustrative in showing how and why each serves a specific purpose:

* When Sue discovered Brian had more than one girlfriend, she beat him over the head with a frying pan.
* The thief jumped over the wall and was greeted by more than one pit bull.
* There are more than a few ways to skin a cat, but only one way to serve it: over rice.


Is all this an almost gross oversimplification? Yes, of course it is. But just like your middle school English teacher gave you only the bare bones of grammar until you shook off your teenage angst and acne, I, too, am sensitive to the demands on your time and attention. Suffice it to say that your formal writing and speaking will benefit from using MORE THAN when referring to quantities rather than using OVER, which is informal, conversational, and frankly, a bit lazy when used in those same situations.

Oh, and about the cat thing...I was just kidding, so save your hate mail. It's better over couscous.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Should the "over-under" in gambling terms be the "ore than - less than", or would you consider that an example of an industry term and, therefore, acceptable?

Happy Dog said...

@Anon: A great question, and I'm flattered you think my opinion matters (it DOES matter, but I'm still working on getting everyone else to get on board). So I'll answer this question in three ways:

1. The over-under bet is based on a fixed TOTAL of points, RBIs, conversions, whatever. If we look at that TOTAL as a fixed point, like a benchmark, then one could argue that you are betting on something OVER that fixed point or UNDER that fixed point, in which case, I don't really have to fight the gag reflex when I hear it.

2. Jargon is jargon and manages to break all kinds of typical grammar and usage norms because it is used by a particular group of people who make a collective decision about the meaning of a word or phrase. I can't fight jargon, and don't really want to.

3. You shouldn't even be asking this. I can only imagine that you are a gambler, and I would like to suggest you save your pennies and rather than head down to the OTB window, buy something pretty for your wife or girlfriend. Or send a donation to Happy Dog. He needs more Milkbones.

Anonymous said...

Better yet, After reading your December 23 post, I will save my dollars for a lap dance. At least that is a sure thing. Thanks for the advice and Merry Christmas.

Oh, and where is this club again?

ChickenFreak said...

I like to blog about blogging. :) In fact, I wish that more bloggers blogged about blogging. That is, more bloggers that are _not_ trying to get me to click an Amazon link or buy a Whopper Chopper. And who don't babble on about SEO and pay per click and, well, bleah.

So, congratulations on the 1,000 page views. :)

I quite agree with you on the "over" versus "more than", though I suspect that I make this error myself. I'll start watching myself to find out.

Esther said...

Is this similar to our conversation regarding "badly" vv "bad"? Maybe you'd like to address this, considering the fact that I think of myself as quite the grammar princess (as you are obviously the grammar queen)and I know many, many people who could benefit.