The Grammarphobia Blog

Is “overage” over the line?

Q: Here’s something that has been driving me crazy: the term “overage,” which the cell-phone companies have invented. It’s not really a word, is it?

A: The noun “overage,” meaning a surplus, is legitimate, according to both The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.).

Merriam-Webster’s dates it from 1909, so it’s been around a lot longer than cell phones.

In fact, “overage” was a word back in the early 15th century, when it meant work or a piece of workmanship, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED says the work angle comes from the Old French ovre or oeuvre.

So, you could say that “overage” is not only OK, but also a piece of work!

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