Writing Glitch #191

Today’s glitch:


Used as an adjective, backup is one word (sometimes hyphenated, especially in older works), not two.

“I’m just the backup friend.”

Backup is never a verb. You can back up your computer’s files, or back them up, but you cannot backup them.

I see a lot (never alot — please stop that!) of confusion (or indifference — it’s hard to tell) about when to use the adjective form (verb and preposition as one word) and when to use the verb form (separate words). Here are a few examples: You can work out, but you cannot workout even if you have a daily workout routine. You can sign up for an email newsletter from your favorite blogger, but you cannot signup for it even if you fill out the sign-up form. You can make up your face for a Halloween costume, but you cannot makeup your face, no matter how much makeup you apply.

Now… if you really, really want to use the exact words from the original example, and you’re willing to make changes to the punctuation and thus to the meaning of those words, there is a solution: “I’m just the — back up, friend.” Here, we have no idea what the speaker was about to say he is, but we can infer that someone got too close, and the speaker had to interrupt himself to tell that person to back up.I’m fairly sure, though, that the writer of the original intended the speaker to say that he’s just the friend to call on if the first-choice friend is unavailable. Or, I suppose, you could add a comma to the other version and have him say, “I’m just the backup, friend.” Now, we know he’s the backup, although not for what, and he’s still addressing the person to whom he’s speaking as friend.

See how much difference punctuation can make even in a single, short sentence?


About Thomas Weaver

I’m a writer and editor who got into professional editing almost by accident years ago when a friend from university needed someone to copyedit his screenplay about giant stompy robots (mecha). Having discovered that I greatly enjoy this kind of work, I’ve been putting my uncanny knack for grammar and punctuation, along with an eclectic mental collection of facts, to good use ever since as a Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom. I'm physically disabled, and for the past several years, I’ve lived with my smugly good-looking twin Paul, who writes military science fiction and refuses to talk about his military service because he can’t. Sometimes Paul and I collaborate on stories, and sometimes I just edit whatever he writes. It's worked out rather well so far. My list of non-writing-related jobs from the past includes librarian, art model, high school teacher, science lab gofer… Although I have no spouse or offspring to tell you about, I do have six cats. (The preferred term is "Insane Cat Gentleman.") I currently spend my time blogging, reading, editing, and fending off cats who like my desk better than my twin’s.
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2 Responses to Writing Glitch #191

  1. danaethinks says:

    Somewhere in my grammar books I remember the hyphenated word being discussed. Basically, when two words get used together for a slightly new concept there is a hyphen, then the hyphen gets dropped as usage gets more common. Since I write futuristic Science Fiction, I’m assuming the language has drifted and I can hyphen and run words together that are part of that world. (Obviously, spellcheck doesn’t like that.) Wouldn’t that fall under creative license if someone called me out?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Somewhere in the word, there’s a person who has a hissy-cow (conniption) every time they see “tomorrow” instead of “to-morrow.” 🙂

      Language changes, and showing those changes can go a long way toward showing how your story’s setting is unlike the here-and-now. However, you’re still writing for readers now, not in the future setting of your story, so take care not to disorient them TOO much.

      Liked by 1 person

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