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Whilst plodding through Patrick Rothfuss' "The Name of the Wind", I came across:

Our dinner was nowhere near as grand as last night's. We made due with the last of my now-stale flatbread, dried meat, and the last potatoes baked on the edge of the fire.

I've seen "make do" mangled into "make due" before on the Interwebz. But this is the first time that I've run across it in a professional work. A quick search on Google Books reveals that Rothfuss and his editor are not the only ones who are happy to let this one pass.

Most language sites on the net including this one continue to gently correct the questioner by pointing out the correct form. Yet, there are some which appear to condone this practice with a dispassionate that-is-the-way-language-works stance on the matter.

So, what's the deal? Is "make due" now considered acceptable?

P.S. It might be relevant to note that Rothfuss is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin.

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In my book, "make do" and "make due" are very different things, and can only attribute this to poor proof-reading and/or relying on spell-checker or grammar-checker – Andrew Sep 12 '12 at 4:58
I have never seen or heard 'make due' used to mean 'make do'. – Barrie England Sep 12 '12 at 6:02
Statistics aren't everything, but here's the Ngram which does seem conclusive. Interesting that made do with only seems to gain currency around 1920. – Andrew Leach Sep 12 '12 at 6:44
Not unrelated: I once marked papers and more than once came across "X is do to Y" meaning "X is caused by Y." – JAM Sep 12 '12 at 13:44
This is deep due-do. Remember that spelling is arbitrary, like phone numbers, and remember how eggcorns come about. – John Lawler Sep 12 '12 at 16:02

2 Answers 2

As a Brit, I'd never confuse "make due" and "make do", but per comments above, they are homophones for some Americans (which as John Lawler comments, could put us in deep do-due here). I still don't really understand how anyone could think "due" makes sense, but here's someone on The Eggcorn Database who says he can (I think he's not exactly a "careful thinker", but there you go).

This NGram claims 44,400 instances of "make do", and 288 of "make due"...

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...but when I scroll through them it seems there are actually only 74 instances of the incorrect form. But the actual numbers are irrelevant - it's incorrect, meaningless, and unacceptable.

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Thank you. But why are both the NGram as well as your Books results comparing "must make due with" and not just "make due with"? As you will find, the results are far more significant in number. Also, as per J.R.'s comments, refining the NGram to include the noughties as well as turning off smoothing brings to notice the dip see towards the end of your graph. – coleopterist Sep 13 '12 at 17:30
@coleopterist: I'm not trying to twist the figures, honestly! It's just that there are still enough results to be "significant" with "must/with" before/after the target phrase, and I thought the longer phrase would make absolutely sure I wasn't distorting things with any "false matches". But at the end of the day, it makes no difference to my answer if the errorneous form occurs ten times more often than my graph suggests. It's still incorrect, meaningless, and unacceptable. – FumbleFingers Sep 13 '12 at 18:01
:) It makes a difference when you attach importance to the scalar magnitude of the results ("actually only 74") rather than rely solely on relative observations. The comparison is currently flawed as is the use of must which needlessly pollutes the results in this case. It makes sense to use additional keywords to refine the results only when there are a number of false positives. Based on the first couple of pages, I do not see any. IMHO, it is also important to note the dates of the books in the results. A majority of them were written in the last few years. Hence my question. – coleopterist Sep 13 '12 at 18:21
FumbleFingers and John Lawler (in the comments) have it right: it's an American eggcorn, since due and do are homophones for a very large number of Americans. It's just as wrong as calling an acorn an eggcorn. – Peter Shor Sep 13 '12 at 20:10
@Peter Shor: I guess you habitually interact with a wide variety of different accents (I think you flagged up "regional homophony" more than once before). But it's still a bit worrying to learn from OP that "Rothfuss is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin. I'm not even sure what "professor" means in that context, but one would like to hope that people with that level of accreditation would be reasonably literate. I'm going to be charitable and assume a transcription error somewhere along the line. – FumbleFingers Sep 13 '12 at 22:10

FumbleFingers's Ngram chart very clearly shows the overwhelming preference for "make do" over "make due" in published English writing through the year 2000. But now let's look at the progress of the phrase "to make due with" relative to its own past frequency in published writing, without reference to the competing "to make do with" option. Here is the Ngram chart for the period 1900–2005:

As you can see, the frequency of "to make due with" rises from approximately zero during the years 1900–1969, traverses some foothills during the 1970s and 1980s, and then begins ascending the flank of K2 in the early 1990s.

One simple explanation for the trajectory of this line graph during the period 1970–2005 is that a spontaneous movement has emerged among writers and publishers in favor of "make due" as a legitimate variant spelling of "make do."

Another theory (and one that I consider far likelier to be true) is that instances of "make due" have cropped up in manuscripts for decades, but until fairly recently publishers' teams of proofreaders and copy editors rooted most of those variant spellings (aka "accidents" or "mistakes") out before they could slip into a finished book or periodical. In this regard, "make due" is only a snowflake on the tip of an iceberg.

A rant

Because publishing has traditionally employed squads of editors and proofreaders to assault innocent manuscripts and force orthographic (and stylistic) conformity on them, people outside the industry have sometimes supposed that the finished products that the publishers sold reflected the near-unanimous preferences, precision, and spelling expertise of the named authors; and on the other hand, those same outsiders have sometimes interpreted variants that did slip through the process as being evidence of thoughtful, intentional, and informed dissent from the otherwise monolithic spelling and style choices of the majority.

In my experience, nothing could be farther from the truth. Most authors want to spell words and phrases the way the vast majority of their peers do, and publishers even more ardently want them to do so. But maintaining a high level of consistency and conformity is expensive and, in the Internet era—an era when readers expose themselves daily to writing that has undergone little or no editorial cleanup before being posted online—strikes publishers as being less and less important.

What happens when you spell "make do" as "make due" in an online article? If you notice it later, or if someone points it out to you, and you don't like the idea that some percentage of your readers will think that you don't know how to spell "make do" correctly, you simply go back into the article and change the spelling. No permanent harm, no foul. And let's face it: It's quite a luxury to keep a bunch of editors and proofreaders on staff just to intercept those types of problems preemptively. That's why, in the past couple of decades, copy editors and proofreaders have become the whooping cranes and California condors of the publishing industry.

The 15 matches for "to make due with" gleaned from a Google Books search over the period from 1970 through 1982 hint at the underpinnings of this phenomenon. They include unique instances from these fine publishers: the U.S. Congress (five instances); the U.S. Air Force; the U.S. Forest Service; Manpower Information, Inc.; IEEE; Business Intercommunications, Inc.; Turtle Creek Publishing Company; Rogers Publishing Company [Electrical Design News]; Balaban International Science Services; Library and Information Technology Association; and Horizon House-Microwave [Microwave Journal]. Not exactly Alfred A. Knopf; Farrar, Straus and Giroux; and the Bodley Head, is it? I doubt that any of these "make due" publishers employed independent reads of the manuscript by two copy editors, followed a cleanup read by one of the first two copy editors followed by a proofread by a third staffer. But that series of interventions was standard practice in many publishing houses thirty years ago. What we've seen in the years since 1990 or so, it seems to me, is the print publishing industry, more or less en masse, heading up Turtle Creek.

Getting back to coleopterist's question

My answer to the question "Is 'make due' now considered acceptable?" is, It depends on what you mean by "acceptable." For their own financial survival—and in deference to the lowered expectations of readers who spend most of their reading time online, where editorial standards are generally much lower than in print—publishers have accepted that they can't afford to police the content they publish with anything like the number of staffers that they once set to the task. In that sense, the publishers have voted with their budgets that variants like "make due" are acceptable (though perhaps not welcome) in their publications. As for readers, they've always had the choice of taking what they get or looking elsewhere for their reading material.

I think that you'll see many more instances of "to make due with" (and similar variant word and phrase spellings) in coming years. You may even start to see instances of "in do coarse" to balance the results out a bit. Ultimately, without the publishing industry's goon squads of copy editors and proofreaders roaming around and terrorizing manuscripts, we may finally get clear of the artificial constraints on spelling that began in earnest with Samuel Johnson's dictionary and the modern publishing house.

It will be interesting to see what emerges from the resulting freedom-for-all. If I had to guess, it would be that eventually a more-sophisticated but still far-from-human word-processing standard along the lines of Word will take over the task of spelling regulation and (inexpensively) mash everything into conformity with its programmers' views of what is appropriate, if only to make standardized commercial tracking of key phrases in published content more convenient. And people on the receiving end of the process will have to make do with the choices that it permits us.

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