Saturday, October 06, 2007

Two, Two, Two Words in One


I recently lodged a protest when the Copy Editor newsletter, of which I am a board member, decided to change its name to Copyediting. (The
-ing is fine; it's the onewordization that bothers me.) A majority of the board members approved of the name change, citing, among other things, the inevitability of two-word compounds becoming closed up. My dissent concluded:
If consistency and "inevitability" are our guiding principles, then ballplayer means we must use baseballplayer, and cabdriver means we must use taxidriver and truckdriver. If we recognize that taxi driver and baseball player endure because readability matters, and that tap dancer endures just because it does, then we should let copy editors be copy editors and recognize copyeditor and copyediting as industry jargon. There are worse things than using industry jargon in an industry publication, of course, but by doing so we are missing a chance to lead by example.
Later I came across an April 2007 entry from the Wall Street Journal's Style & Substance newsletter making a similar objection to waitlist and lifecycle. A stylist after my own heart wrote:
Lifestyle and cellphone became single words in our style only after serving many years as two words. Health care remains split. Let’s keep wait list and life cycle in a longer courtship before their wedding. A rule of thumb: If the term doesn’t appear as one word in Webster’s New World or the stylebook, use the two-word version, or hyphenation for adjectival usage: Wait-list game, life-cycle funds.
After all that, I continue to marvel at how often people, even veteran copy editors, err in the other direction, leaving a space in compounds celebrating many years of wedded bliss. There are plenty of questionable and hard-to-remember onewordizations (cabdriver, highflier, hardworking, Sunbelt), but I'm talking the simple stuff. Repeat after me:

  • Bookstore.
  • Drugstore.
  • Nightclub.
  • Schoolteacher.
  • Stylebook*.

    *The illustration is from 1950.
  • 6 comments:

    Paul Walker said...

    It's clearly different in the US (I'm guessing, given the Sunbelt example) - because I've hardly ever seen the compound words schoolteacher, highflier, cabdriver, drugstore, hardworking, and ballplayer. (the OS X spellchecker hasn't seen highflier either…) All of these words are split into two or hyphenated. Healthcare, however, is generally written as one word. (though I think that change was lead by our government insisting upon connecting the two words in everything they create)

    Karner said...

    Cop-yeditor? That's what I see in "copyeditor." This from someone who works with a bunch of people who keep using "fund-raiser," 'cause they can't get the concept of change through their heads.

    Jeff said...

    Hey Bill, where do you come down on "video game" versus "videogame"? As a copy editor and a gamer, I can't stand the onewordization of the term.

    Lauren Swartzmiller said...

    Back in September, there was an article about the demise of the hyphen for thousands of words in the sixth edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

    You can make the argument that OED, short or full, is a UK publication and doesn't necessarily reflect the opinion of the majority or any given US style book. What it does reflect, however, is either the continuing evolution of language in all its splendor or a concession to the faster paced, internet impacted world of words we play in. Maybe both.

    There will be more changes to come, you can bet on it. In the meantime, I'll still be caught between the rock and the hard place of copy-edit and copyedit, being corrected by lovers of each version whenever I write it wrong in their eyes. Argh.

    JD said...

    Here in the UK, we have a similar issue with our own term for copy editor: sub editor vs subeditor vs sub-editor. Most of the time we just fudge the issue by referring to 'subs'...
    http://engineroomblog.blogspot.com

    etymon said...

    Hyphenation is harder, but in deciding what to set solid and what to leave as separate words, I think pronunciation should be considered. Surely words should not be written together when they are pronounced separately; and they should be set solid when they come to be accented as a single word (think of hotdog, for example). If this principle were observed, we would not be losing the distinction between the adjective "everyday" and the adverbial expression "every day". And no-one would dream of writing "underway" as long as we don't accent it the way we do "underwear".