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Should "office mate" be one word, in the same vein as "roommate"? I haven't been able to find any reference that addresses this.

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6 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

It's a noun-noun compound, and they vary in spelling a lot. Officemate, office-mate, office mate, roommate, bed mate, mincemeat, mince-meat, minced meat, etc.

There is no official spelling for such compounds, which are formed ad libitum in spoken English. Whatever looks good to you will work; English readers are mostly cooperative.

If anyone objects, you can write it off as being simply peevery.

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+1 for "mostly cooperative." –  Gnawme Dec 19 '11 at 22:50
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I'm not sure what "official spelling" means in the context of changing usage, but it may be worth pointing out that my 1983 copy of Chambers has work-mate, whereas the 2011 edition has workmate. Personally, I'd either use workmate or colleague anyway. Office mate sounds a bit clunky to me, however it's spelt. –  FumbleFingers Dec 19 '11 at 23:43
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Merriam-Webster lists roommate as a word, but neither officemate nor office mate is listed. (My spell-checker flags officemate as wrong.)

As the following Ngram shows, office mate outstrips officemate in usage. (Many of the occurrences of officemate are accounted for by software products of that name.)

office mate vs officemate

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Remember, Google Ngram Viewer is case-sensitive so OfficeMate is excluded from your chart. –  Hugo Dec 20 '11 at 7:03
    
@Hugo But when I look up the examples it gives from the corpus, I see OfficeMATE, Officemate, and, OfficeMate, etc., which is what led me to conclude that many of the contributions were coming from those sorts of sources. –  Gnawme Dec 20 '11 at 8:20
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Yes, care is needed: when you click the link below the case-sensitive Ngram, it takes you to case-insensitive Google Books results. –  Hugo Dec 20 '11 at 9:03
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The OED has an entry called "office-man" that does not appear to be hyphenated in its later uses.

ˈoffice-man †1.1 An officer; an official. Sc. Obs. 1908 J. M. Sullivan Criminal Slang 17 Office man, headquarters detective.    1921 Daily Colonist (Victoria, B.C.) 12 Oct. 16/2 (Advt.), Wanted—position as office man, watchman, warehouse, or place of trust.    1949 Partridge Dict. Underworld 479/1 Office man, a headquarters detective.

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I have a feeling that there is a tendency to gradually drop hyphens and move towards a hyphenfree (hyphen-free/ hyphen free) English.

  1. The current trend is toward closed compounds...
  2. In 2007, (the National Geographic) announced cutbacks on hyphen use in compounds...
  3. (The) new sixth edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, ... has managed to eliminate some 16,000 hyphens out of 600,000 entries. (quoted from the above.)
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I would make a decision applying a similar perspective as with the word roommate. By separating the words, office and mate, it seems to emphasize the mate part, which is not the intent in an office context, just like it isn't in a co-habitation context e.g. room mate.

Secondary consideration: Corporate usage. There are numerous examples of major businesses named officemate, a single word. See OfficeMate:

the world's major provider of practice management software for eyecare practices

as well as Officemate International Corporation (OIC):

the leading manufacturer of office essentials...sold at thousands of office product suppliers all over the world.

*This is rather subjective, but I noticed that a prior answer already provided the full ngram treatment.

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I will mention that both Stack Exchange AND the WordPress spellchecker red line officemate, with office mate the preferred spelling! –  Feral Oink Dec 19 '11 at 22:54
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Most likely because it thinks that you missed hitting the space bar, so it tries to separate the words. –  Mahnax Dec 19 '11 at 23:26
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@Mahnax It thinks? Oh if only it could. –  Kris Dec 20 '11 at 7:11
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Listen to how the word is pronounced. If you hear separate stress on "OFF-ice" and "MATE", then you should certainly treat it as two words.

If you hear only one stress ("OFF-ice-mate"), and if you hear it very often, then you can try writing it as "office-mate". If nobody corrects you then, congratulations, you have played a part in the formation of a new English word.

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