Lawn Mower or Lawnmower?

by admin on 26 May 2008

Which is the correct form? Lawn mower as two separate words? Or lawnmower as a single combined word?

What does it matter? Why bother? Well, apart from a strange interest in the development of words I find it important to understand details such as this in the development of a web site. After all, if I get it badly wrong very few people will ever find my pages. Or is that not true?

Am I talking about correctness in the English language, or am I talking about common practice? And so to the dictionary. The biggest dictionary in our house is one published some years ago by the Reader’s Digest. Surely, they’ll have got it right! Reader’s Digest says, “Lawn mower”.

Then I remembered that a friend of mine has a full multi-volume set of the Oxford English Dictionary. What can be more authoritative than that? I pick up the phone. “Brian, how should I spell lawnmower; one word or two?” “That’s a strange question for a Sunday afternoon,” he says, but faithfully goes away to look it up. “Neither,” comes back the answer, “It’s hyphenated.” So now we have three alternatives: lawn mower, lawn-mower, and lawnmower.

Hmm. But for the purposes of a web site I need to know not only how it “should” be spelled, but how people are likely to enter it into a search engine such as Google or Yahoo!. How to find out? Ah, yes! Google Trends is the way forward. Let’s enter lawn mower and lawnmower into a comparative keyword history query and see what we get.

The answer is fascinating. In Ireland the single word predominates. In the United States, Canada and Australia the two word form prevails. In the United Kingdom they’re neck and neck. Interestingly, the OED’s hyphenated form gets a big zero everywhere.

So what does all this mean for my web site and blog? If I use the single word the search engines are likely to send me mostly European visitors; if I use the two word form, mostly North Americans. … Answer? Whatever the “official” spelling (if there really is such a thing), use them both.

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