WHO doesn't have their own little language peeve? "Literally" should be reserved for literal situations; there are plenty of ways to intensify a statement rather than saying, "We literally walked a million miles." "To beg the question" is an old term from logic that means "to assume one's own conclusion in an argument"; today, most people use it to mean "to prompt the question". Two clauses connected by a comma, the "comma splice", is jarring in good writing; people should avoid it.
But some people take peeves to another level entirely. They choose words or phrases that have a widely understood, long-standing second meaning, and treat the second, perhaps metaphorical or new meaning, with a shocked seriousness that should be reserved for the apocalypse.
Someone has recently created a new Twitter account, @over_morethan, dedicated to the idea that "over" may not be used with numbers: one thing may physically only sit over another thing, in this view. But to write, as The Economist has recently, of "over two-thirds", "over 150 fellows of the Royal Society" or "over a year" is to take a pure preposition and debase it with metaphorical usage. The purists would say that these should be "more than two- thirds", "more than 150 fellows" and "more than a year".
And it wasn't just @over_morethan. Using "over" with numbers was even banned by the Associated Press (AP) stylebook, which many American newspapers use as their own, and which thus gives it a kind of sanctified status. According to one account, there was an audible gasp at the meeting of the American Copy Editors' Society when AP announced that it was abandoning the "rule". Never mind that, as Jonathan Owen, an editor, pointed out, languages from Swedish to ancient Greek can use their "over" preposition in exactly the same way, or that "over" has been used like this for centuries in English. Some people are quite simply attached to this pseudo-rule—no "over" with numbers—and they have treated AP's more-than-justifiable abandonment as a lowering of intellectual standards.
Then take Bryan Henderson, a man who has "corrected" tens of thousands of Wikipedia articles, removing "comprised of". His rationale was that a "whole comprises the parts", so the phrase "comprised of" is meaningless gobbledygook probably inspired by confusion with "composed of". If it is meaningless, a lot of native speakers seem to disagree: the phrase turns up almost 4,000 hits on The Economist's website and 63m results on Google. Odd that a meaningless phrase can be used so meaningfully by so many people.
The case for making language rules based on how speakers actually use their language—rather than a dreamed-up ideal for how it should be used—is straightforward. Language is an arbitrary system of signs agreed on by a community. If English-speakers agree that the sound "dog" should go with a barking four-legged mammal, then that ends the discussion about what a "dog" is.
Most English-speakers have no problem with "over" plus a number. The anonymous Twitter pundit has clearly enjoyed herself (it turned out to be a woman, even though in Johnson's experience it is men who complain most about grammar), correcting the New York Times, Time magazine, Newsweek, along with AP, for using "over" with a number. It does not seem to have occurred to her to wonder why such a variety of publications—which agree on barely anything else—should agree that "over" can be used with a number. And they can hardly be accused of confusing their readers. The same could be said for the thousands of Wikipedia editors that Mr Henderson has corrected—nearly all highly educated native-speakers keen on sharing knowledge. They know their readers will understand; who says they cannot use their language properly?
Language change happens slowly. "Over" with a number seems to have ancient roots; "comprised of" began rising in English books more than (or is that "over") a century ago; and nobody is confused by either. Of Johnson's own peeves, it seems that careful writers still mostly use "literally" literally—something worth fighting for. But "to beg the question" meaning "to prompt the question" is fully mainstream. It is all well and good to oppose a change that has not yet taken hold, or one that still confuses people. But when the language has truly moved on, so should its guardians.