August 27, 2021

Words of the Month - Everyday Words Are Misused Every Day

         Okay, this post might be more of a pet peeve than a scholarly article, but I am noticing an every-increasing inability among writers of English to understand when certain words are compounds, and when they remain separate.  Perhaps the most common and obtrusive of all is seen in posters and advertisements like the ones shown here.  In both these cases, Every Day should be written as two separate words, otherwise the motivational poster is actually urging you to present yourself as ordinary.

        Every day he wore his everyday suit.

        If you want to stand out, try these standout promotion ideas.

        Please sign up on the signup sheet.

        Make up your face with the best makeup.

        I just can’t catch up, so I’m always playing catch-up.

        He runs on and on, but the worst is that without punctuation, it’s all one big run-on sentence.

        It's fine to show off your skills, but don't be a show-off.

        I’d let the water out, but I can’t find an outlet.

        The rain still hasn’t let up.  It’s been raining for days without letup.

        Is it better to drop the ball or toss it up?  I don’t know; it’s really a toss-up.

        Any way you want to do it is fine, unless you’re just going to refuse to do it anyway.

        If you look at these examples, you can see a pattern.  Nouns with an adjective become adjectives or adverbs when they are compounds.  Any way is a noun but anyway is an adverb.  (Every day is usually used as an adverbial phrase, but it retains its noun.  It refers to frequency because it tells on what days something happens: every day.  Once smushed together into everyday, on the other hand, it is an adjective describing the ordinary quality of a thing or activity.)  Meanwhile, verbs with a preposition become nouns or adjectives when they are compounds.  Some of these compounds seem to be only a noun (letup, toss-up), and possibly some are used only as adjectives (although I can’t think of any off the top of my head), but many can be either: she’s a standout musician or that musician is a real standout; put on your makeup or don’t miss the makeup session for the missed class, or let's examine the make-up of the compound).
        So why does this matter?  Well, it probably doesn’t.  People seem to have no difficulty understanding each other, even when they use the incorrect forms of these words.  Moreover, language changes, and before much longer these forms may not even be “incorrect.”  This will not destroy civilization.  However, I enjoy noting the distinction because it sheds light on the English’s language’s versatility: how people can fool around with words and their function.  The spelling conventions that show some words written separately while others are written as compounds makes it clear how phrases got smushed together into single words so that they could be applied in new ways.  So I continue to be pedantic in my spelling, and I continue to be mildly irritated when I see these distinctions misunderstood or ignored.  As for the rest of you, write them any way you want.  Even if you do it wrong, people will understand you anyway.

[Pictures: Motivational poster found on Amazon;

Advertisement for Nora Dental Associates (and to make matters, worse, while pushing "every day" together, they've broken "coffee-stained" apart.  Sigh.]


Charlotte (MotherOwl) said...

Thank you for this. It's fun, I enjoy reading sudh language-nerdy posts. I can't write them in English, but do so in Danish, complaining about much the same thing, and some things analogous to your then/than probelms.
Don't hesitate to correct me, if you read my blog posts and I make any mistakes. I have learnt this lesson:
- What do you say, when corrected?
- Thank you! I love improving.

PS. I hate those Captchas :(

Pax said...

I'll add my thanks for this. I confess to confusing some of these forms and using the wrong one from time to time. It is very helpful to have the differences explained so clearly. Now if only I can remember . . . .