Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Can we have a word? (Or better, TWO words?)

I'm not much into the smushing of two words together to make one.

I suppose there are good semantic reasons for doing so -- sometimes.

And -- say it with me now -- language is always changing.

But. Do we really need foodservice? And caselaw? Would you also then write drinkservice and  statutorylaw?

Now, foodservice is an industry term for those in the business of serving food to others, usually in large numbers, like a restaurant or a corporate cafeteria. So there might be reason to make it its own term. Except, if you kept it two words, what would happen? Would people confuse this kind of food service with any other kind of food service? I don't think so.

And with words like caselaw, it just looks like it's pronounced CASS-eh-law.

Which brings me to the most hotly contested issue among copy editors (or is that copyeditors?). That's right: Mavens in this field have an ongoing debate about how to write copy editor/copy edit/copy editing.

The two-word style is the original, but lately some want to make them each one word, including the foremost publication on the subject: Copyediting, a newsletter that changed its name just a couple of years ago to the one-word style, as well as its spellings of copyedit and copyeditor.

One opponent of this change, Bill Walsh, copy chief at The Washington Post, says copyeditor looks like it would be pronounced cop-yeditor, and I have to say I agree. I tend to treat each differently: copy edit and copy editor, but copyediting. Some would argue that this looks inconsistent, but it makes sense to me.

What doesn't make sense to me:

  • Healthcare
  • Childcare/Daycare
  • Backyard (except as an adjective, e.g., backyard barbecue)
  • Cellphone
  • Homepage (Spelling this as one word makes sense to me, but it still looks odd. Or it looks French -- oh-mah-PAZH.)

So, please, before you start smushing, consult a dictionary. It may be one word, but it may not be. Yet. Let's not rush the smush.


  1. I don't have a problem with "cellphone," as it seems parallel to "telephone." But would you write "mobilephone"? Me thinks not. And I'm also very much in favor of "website" vs. the now-archaic-looking AP style "Web site."

  2. Actually, AP has stepped a toe into the 21st century and changed its style to "website." However, it still caps "Web" when used alone.