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Can somebody confirm if the correct spelling is cheeseslicer or cheese slicer?

I always thought in English words are not written together when combined, but some online dictionaries are contradictory for this word.

Also, what are the rules for adding a space when combining words?

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Which "online dictionaries" have you consulted? –  TrevorD Jul 29 '13 at 14:20
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Hmmmm... Not much of a cheese slicer, is it? :^) –  J.R. Jul 29 '13 at 15:07
    
@TrevorD I checked google and bing translator: both Cheese slicer, babylon and translator.reference.com give Barn (?) ... I cannot find the other translator who give cheeseslicer as result. –  Michel Keijzers Jul 30 '13 at 8:16
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3 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Some non-definitive musings on the general case here. All remarks should be understood to refer to Standard Written American English only; I am familiar enough with the British form of this register to know it when I see it, but not to exposit its rules, and beyond the Standard Written registers I am not qualified even to speculate.

  • When the components of a “noun phrase” are all words that can stand on their own, English generally prefers to keep them as separate words. However, when a particular group of nouns+modifiers is so common that people start thinking about it as a thing-in-itself rather than a combination, they will also start running the words together. For instance, copy editor often becomes copyeditor in the contexts where that is a common term referring to a specific job. This is less likely to happen as the combination gets longer, or if it would produce a phonotactically forbidden sequence of letters; for instance, I have never seen anyone write mechanicalengineer even though that is also a frequently-used term (in the proper circles) for a specific job.

  • Hyphens between at least some standalone words of a noun phrase are used similarly to parentheses in mathematics. They disambiguate the interpretation of the phrase by binding the hyphenated words more closely together. Thing-in-itself is a good example; this can also be written without the hyphens, but as used in the above sentence, the hyphens help the reader avoid a garden-path error. Garden-path error is also a good example; if I’d written “garden path error” it would be ambiguous between garden-path error and garden path-error. (Context dictates the former interpretation, but relying on context makes the reader do more work.)

  • When modifiers cannot stand alone as words (the technical term for these is “bound morpheme”), such as the non- in non-definitive above, they will either be run together with the word modified, or they will be set off with a hyphen. For any given combination of word and modifier, one choice will look “right” to a native speaker. For instance, the copyeditor in my head insists that non- requires a hyphen when applied to most words, but there is a finite list of words where no hyphen is used, e.g. nonflammable. (I say “the copyeditor in my head” because sometimes it turns out that he’s completely wrong about something, and this could be one of those times.) When these modifiers are written standalone, as one does when one wants to talk about the modifier rather than employ it, there will always be a leading or trailing hyphen to stand for the absent modified word.

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Thanks for this 'formal' explanation .. it explains why sometimes there are different spellings, even within online translators/Wikipedia etc. –  Michel Keijzers Jul 29 '13 at 21:34
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As an American english speaker, I'd say "cheese slicer" because it is essentially a slicer, just of the cheese variety.

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The OED has cheese-cutter with a hyphen. If you like that style, you might prefer to write cheese-slicer.

On the other hand, the Wikipedia article on Cheese knife uses both cheese cutter and cheese slicer uncluttered by hyphens. They present this as an example of a cheese slicer, which they label as such:

enter image description here

Personally, I wouldn’t write them as one word with neither hyphen nor space separating them, but that’s just me. The British do tend to use more hyphens than North Americans, but to my eye that’s just unnecessary clutter in many cases (like nonaligned, for example).

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Yes Brit here and I plead guilty to greatly preferring non-aligned. –  TheMathemagician Jul 29 '13 at 15:03
    
But isn't there a difference between compound words that are formed of two extant words and words that are created by adding a prefix that cannot stand on its own? –  bib Jul 29 '13 at 15:30
    
@bib As Zack explains in his answer (which I note was later than your question), there is a difference in that one wouldn't use "non aligned" (two words), but hyphenated and single word forms are both still possible. Personally, I would hyphenate if I though there were a risk of the word being misread without a hyphen; e.g. in "nonaligned", it could be argued that there is a risk of it being misread as "nona-ligned", "nona" being a prefix meaning 'nine'. (I agree that that is not a good example because "ligned" is not a word, but I hope you understand my point.) –  TrevorD Jul 30 '13 at 10:21
    
Not to mention (but I will) that I would call that particular object a "cheese plane". It is specifically used to plane curls off of hard cheeses. It would not be useful to cut even slices off a larger block. –  RBerteig Jul 30 '13 at 22:04
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