Editing Notes: Multiple Accepted Spellings

Some words, I simply don’t know how to spell. I have to look up “maneuver” every time, I don’t know why I can’t remember that.

Some words I swear I know how to spell until the spellchecker in whatever program I’m kicks it back. OpenOffice Writer doesn’t recognize “consciousness.” Dude, OOW, that’s the correct spelling.

But then, during the editing and proofreading stages, I run into prickly words and phrases. Does “upside-down” need the hyphen, or not? Is it “duffle bag” or “duffel bag”?

Right now, as I’m typing this post, WordPress thinks both spellings of that particular type of bag are incorrect. Turns out, they’re both accepted–it was easy to find both spellings in real-world environments, ie, I checked retail sites to see how their products were spelled.

So if they’re both technically correct (the best kind of correct), which one do you use?

Let me introduce you to Google Ngram Viewer.

You type in the words/phrases you want to compare, separated by commas, and the program checks the incidences of the word from the selected corpus of books and graphs them by frequency over time.

duffel

In my luggage example, “duffel” is more common since 1940, but in recent years it’s suffering a decline while “duffle” rises. The former is still more common overall, but it seems there’s a shift going on.

In this case, I’ve chosen in my current manuscript to use “duffel” both because it’s the prevalent spelling and because I like the way it looks better. When both are acceptable, that’s a good enough reason, but I like to have prevalent usage on my side when possible.

So what about upside-down? My gut (ie, my childhood school experience) says the hyphen stays, but what form is actually prevalent?

upside-down

I am outmatched–the unhyphenated version wins.

I hope you enjoy another tool for your inner editor to play with!

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