Perpetuating grammar myths

Originally published April 2012

It seems that over and more than, and around and about, are pretty much interchangeable. That’s the problem with English, I keep discovering that the hard and fast rules I grew up with are more often than not wrong.

There are countless blog posts about commonly held misconceptions of the rules of English, such as ending sentences with prepositions or starting them with and or but, splitting infinitives and using they for an individual. In fact I wrote a whole article myself on discovering that collective nouns can take plural verbs.

But learning that over and around are quite acceptable before numbers was enough to make me pull out my hair. As an editor I have been haranguing writers for two decades on the issue, explaining that over and around are prepositions and should only be used as such. It still takes a physical effort not to change them when they come under my poised red pen (or in this day and age within the reach of my mouse).

As with most grammar myths it appears a newspaper editor took exception at some stage and enforced his will on staff. From there it was a short step into style guides and then into the collective (mis)knowledge.

For this very reason, to this day, I have to force myself to write orientated. All because a former boss told me the word simply didn’t exist and that oriented suffices.

I wonder how many people I have had a similar effect on, passing on my non-rules. Whatever the number, there are bound to be more in the future, it’s foolish to think I’ve rooted out all the grammar myths burned into my brain.

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