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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How Little Differences Can Save Your Life

Charles Self's story was going to be stolen by me for my autobiography and I still might. Yet for now it will be recounted by Jayme Lynn Blaschke, whom was taught by Self.


Knowing the difference between "over," which is a location, and "more than," which is a relative quantity, can save your life.
Okay, here's the story (which any of my former interns or grad students will surely remember). Back in my misspent college days, I had several courses with Charles Self, the head of the journalism department at A&M (he came from Alabama, lured by generous promises of starting a Ph.D. program. We all know what became of that).
Anyhoo, Self graduated himself from college with a degree in journalism at the height of the Vietnam war. His draft number immediately came up, as they were wont to do in those day, and after boot camp they shipped him out to Saigon. At this point, one of the highers-up in the chain of command happened across his personnel record and saw his journalism degree. So the commander pulled him out of his platoon and gave him one of those standard journalism evaluation writing tests. Afterwards, the commander told him the first thing he checked for was to see if Self corrected all the "overs" sprinkled throughout the text to "more than." He had, was assigned a desk job in the press office and never saw combat. All because he knew the difference between "over" and "more than."
They can change the stylebook all they want, but it's not a distinction I'm likely to forget any time soon. Hell, next thing you know they'll be saying "half mast" and "half staff" are interchangeable..
By the way, they have changed the stylebook.
 AP Stylebook editors said at a session Thursday that “Over” is fine when referring to a quantity; you don’t have to change it to “more than.”
The news elicited a gasp, Krueger reports.
Twitter demonstrates the typical response.

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