One lump or two?

English tends to mash words together over time, which is how base ball became base-ball and then baseball. Our job as writers, though, is to reflect the language that most people use right now, not to resurrect the past or lead the masses toward a glorious future.

The way the English plays out in 2016, you’ll find some parts of the language are further along the path to consolidation than others. Adjectives are in the vanguard. That’s why you wear your everyday outfit every day, but you don’t wear it everyday.

Much of the time, people will catch your meaning if you mash together a couple of words that should stand apart. But not always. If you are working over time, you are stopping occasionally and spreading out your project. If you are working overtime, you are sticking to your job in one single stretch. Get this one wrong, and you’ll end up saying the opposite of what you mean.

We can get so used to seeing certain words paired up that we forget how to use them in any other way. At some point in your life you probably have gone to a fundraiser. So people get into the habit of saying they are fundraising. That’s not wrong, but it’s smoother to say you are raising funds.

Occasionally when two words meld into one, the spelling changes. You may decide that you don’t want things spread out in different places. You want them all together. And when you take them altogether, you lose an L.

It’s tempting to treat the dropped L as if that were some kind of rule. Alas, English can’t be tamed that way.

When everything is going the way you want it to, how much of it is going right? All of it. So it is all right. It is not alright. There is no proper use of the letter combination “alright,” even if you know somebody named Al who is right. And if you ever feel the urge to use the slangy “aight,” please be advised that it does not make you look any cooler.

 

 


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