Posted by: cochinblogger | May 14, 2010

In Credible India: Some Thoughts on Compound Words

I work with words, and never cease to be amused by the unintended consequences of typos. I’d given one example earlier (see Here is another.

Somebody involved in this sloganeering project, either the project sponsor or the painter, was probably familiar with the preposition “in” but not the word “incredible.” Hence, the amusing transformation of the famous tourism department slogan “Incredible India” into the meaningless “In Credible India.”

This reminds me of a related topic: Why are some words closed and others spaced apart in the dictionary? For example, “lifespan” is one word, but “life cycle” is two words in Webster’s. The traditional explanation is that many compound words that start out as two words become one word with increased usage over time. We can see this happening with contemporary words such as “Web site,” which is surely but surely mutating into “Website” or “website.” But how does one explain “lifespan” and “life cycle”? The words are equally common. And how does one even begin to account for the fact that it’s “foreleg” in the dictionary (Webster’s) but there is no entry for “hindleg”? On one mailing list, a poster had a witty, hilarious explanation: “hind leg” is open to ensure the perpetuation of the species!!

The moral of the story: Watch that space!

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