‘Right’ or ‘wrong’ might depend on when you ask

A particular challenge for our editors is when spelling ‘rules’ change.

This is often because of ‘compounding’. Compounding, where two or more words are brought together to form a single word, is one of the main ways that new words are formed in English.

Many of the single words we know today actually started life as two or more words. But the longer form now looks strange to modern eyes. Check out:

  • to morrow
  • for ever
  • some body
  • every one
  • note book
  • waist coat
  • clock work
  • in stead
  • what so ever
  • none the less.

The usual path for a new word is for two words (to day) to become hyphenated (to-day) and then for the hyphen to be dropped (today).

This is not just part of historical changes to our language – it is happening all the time. For example, ‘e-mail’ is now ‘email’, and ‘in store’ became ‘in-store’ and now ‘instore’.

Decisions, decisions

Our challenge is when to decide that the new word has definitely formed, or when we should still be using the earlier form. If we change the ‘rules’ too soon in our editing, some of our readers are going to think we are ‘wrong’. (I have to say, I still cringe a little at ‘instore’).

Unfortunately, they will also think we are wrong if we change too late – I don’t think any of our clients would be impressed if we wrote:

‘To day, I picked up my note book to draft a letter but then decided I would do it to morrow in stead.’

Looking at a dictionary can help to show you what is being commonly used, but this means we can end up with inconsistencies when one word has merged but another similar word hasn’t. For example, Macquarie tells us that child care is a noun and childcare is an adjective. It also says that day care is a noun, but then says daycare isn’t a word.

Current questions

All sorts of words have started to merge, challenging our thinking and editing. ‘Underway’ is increasingly replacing ‘under way’, and ‘anymore’ is even replacing ‘any more’, although many people still see these as ‘wrong’.

In some texts, you will catch a glimpse of ‘alot’ and ‘abit’, and even ‘upto’. Although they make us cringe now, will they be standard spelling in a few more years?

We’d love to hear about your experiences of changing language. What are some current uses – whether you love or hate them – that you think will become standard for the editors of the future?