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Opening Arguments

The realdeal

An issue the administration and its Republican foes have not debated yet (but any day now, I'm sure):

Is it "health care" or "healthcare?"

The red underline in my browser says "healthcare" is misspelled, but sometimes browsers are better at surfing than spelling, especially in areas where popular use is evolving a spelling or word meaning.

. . . Google returns 131 million "hits" on healthcare and 165 million on "health care." Advantage "health care" but not by much. Popular opinion is roughly divided on the issue.

The writer then checks the AP stylebook and is advised that one option is the fence-straddling "health-care" when the phrase is used as an adjective, although it cautions: "Use of the hyphen is far from standardized. It is optional in most cases, a matter of taste, judgment and style sense. But the fewer hyphens the better; use them only when not using them causes confusion. (Small-business owner, but health care center.)"

I'm not sure I'd trust AP to be up on where popular usage is. Its style book still suggested the form "teen-ager" years and years after almost everyone in the civilized world had gone to "teenager." I suspect healthcare will soon be standard usage, just as "Web site" has evolved into "website." For what it's worth, our style here is "health care," even in the adjectival form. The theory is that, like "high school," for example, people have become so used to seeing the words together that no hyphen is necessary.


Bob G.
Thu, 09/10/2009 - 10:01am

Now, for all the "texters" out there...is it:


Thu, 09/10/2009 - 4:50pm

"Small-business owner" is probably not the best example in the hyphen-usage debate. After all, without the hyphen, one might be unsure whether it is the owner or the business that is small.
Otherwise, I agree with your observations regarding the AP stylebook. I always was bugged by having to use "teen-ager." The stylebook used to assert that "teenager" is a bird. I've heard of a tanager, but not a winged "teenager."

Kevin Knuth
Fri, 09/11/2009 - 10:01am

My solution is that I alternate between using Health Care and Healthcare.

No, I am not kidding!