I am a city state
By ADRIAN TAHOURDIN
To help us with our editing work at the TLS we make ample use of the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors (ODWE). In it we find confirmation, for example, that proofreader is one word and unhyphenated, as is postmodern, but that post-structuralism retains its hyphen; and that Schadenfreude remains italicized (maybe it’s time to lower-case and romanize it; it’s in common usage after all, arguably as common as doppelgänger, which ODWE doesn’t italicize).
I’ve been here so long that I really shouldn’t need to consult ODWE any more ("two words, one word in US"), but I tend to forget whether city state and nation state (are you still reading this?) are both unhyphenated. Well, nation state appears as two words and I’ve added city state myself in two words to my copy (I guess it appears less frequently than the former, and usually with reference to Renaissance Italy). But then it often seems to be rendered thus – city-state – in monographs on Renaissance Italy . . .
“I am a think tank. Am I hyphenated?”, a neighbouring editor might ask. To which the reply will come from somewhere around these parts: “two words”. Yes, it’s all rather sad I know, but then aren’t most workplace (one word) rituals?
Although very useful, ODWE can be infuriating in its indecision – given that it’s supposed to be a style guide; in the current edition, for example, Quran is (also Qur’an) var. of Koran. Well, which is it? (We favour Qur’an.)
Meanwhile here, at random, are a few of its unusual entries, none of which I’ve ever had to make use of:
abbatial relating to an abbey, abbot, or abbess
pinking shears, pinking scissors (two words)
beeves see beef
furmenty use frumenty
frumenty dish of hulled wheat boiled in milk (not furmety)
furmety use frumenty
armhole (one word)
armiger person entitled to heraldic arms
pademelon (also paddymelon) small wallaby
cottar (also cottier) hist. tenant of a cottage
bancassurance (also bankassurance) selling of insurance by banks
We have water biscuit, water boatman (two words) but no water bottle
Ofwat is the Office of Water Services, a regulatory body (one cap.)
oilcake, oilcan, oilcloth are all one word, but oil drum (two words), while oilfield, oilseed and oilskin are all one word
Oleiferous producing oil
Oligopsony market with a small number of buyers
Electuary arch. Sweetened medicine
You might look up wig-maker and instead come across “wigeon (also widgeon) a kind of duck”. Further up the column, we find wideawake (not to be confused with wide awake), “soft felt hat (one word)”.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve looked up “coffee house” (does it need a hyphen?) only to find it’s not in the ODWE. Instead I find “coffee bar, coffee cup, coffee shop, coffee table” (all pretty obvious), followed by “cofferdam watertight enclosure in construction work (one word)”.
Then there are the Latin phrases that I repeatedly have to look up (partly to remind myself of what they mean) such as: sub specie aeternitatis viewed in relation to the eternal (L., ital.).
I recently read Eben Venter’s brutal novel Trencherman (first published in Afrikaans in 2006 (the English translation was reviewed by Elizabeth Lowry in the TLS, May 13, 2016). The translator Luke Stubbs provides an essential glossary of Afrikaans and Xhosa terms that appear in the novel. But why, I wonder, do witblommetjie (“a small Karoo bush with white flowers”) and ankerkaroo (“small Karoo bush”) appear in the text in roman whereas in the same paragraph kerriebossie (“small Karoo bush that has a strong curry smell”) is italicized? My pedantic reader’s brain was puzzled by this. Maybe it's just an oversight. All the same, it’s terrible to always be reading novels through the lens of a proofreader.