This question is an attempt to find an abstract answer to every "one word or two?" discussion.

My problem is exemplified by this scenario:
My text editor's spellchecker recently corrected me on my use of "video game" because it felt "videogame" was proper. Searching the Internet, however, led me to feel "video game" was proper, despite there being many credible sources using "videogame". As I'm writing this now, the spellchecker in my browser wants me to use "video game".

Along my search, I found a quote in a forum from a Wired magazine editor saying they always join words whenever possible. That person credited their book, "Wired Style: Principles of English Usage in the Digital Age", for that decision. I thought this was interesting.

It seems it's up to me to decide what form I want to use. How can I make such a decision? What factors should I consider?

  • You really should consider listening to some verismo opera rather than playing video games all the time. – Ricky Jan 13 '16 at 22:42

Your answer will hinge on the definitions of 'proper' and 'correct' that you're willing to accept.

One response frequently promoted on this site by 'linguists', is that the space is an unnecessary and essentially meaningless orthographical nicety. I think that response can easily be "given the lie" by asking why, then, their response includes spaces, ratherthanbeingallstrungtogetherinthemannerofancientlatinandgreekenscriptions.

The response to your question that I've always used in thirtysome odd years as a professional editor is this: if you examine the trends for use of individual compounds, they begin open, that is, with a space, then are (usually) hyphenated for a while, then finally, barring definable circumstances where closing the compound causes ambiguity, orthographical or phonetic awkwardness, closed. Some compounds seem to skip the intermediate step and, in the case of new terms, the initial step.

So, what you do will depend, as I mentioned, on your sense of propriety: if 'videogame' is likely to last, it is also likely to, finally, become the most common form of the compound, supposing it is not already. If you're writing the compound for a conservative audience, you might want to leave it open. If you want a middle ground, the hypenated version might be best.

If you expect your writing to be published, you might want to pay attention to the practices and style guides in use at the desired publication. Some publications have lists of compounds they hyphenate, close and leave open.

Boiling the foregoing down to factors to consider, it amounts to these:

  1. audience;
  2. history of use;
  3. contemporary trends;
  4. requirements for publication;
  5. your sense of the interrelatedness of the first four.
  • 1
    A decent answer. I'm not sure if the duplicate I suggested above is the best canonical question or not, but whichever question is the canonical one, you should copy this answer to it. – curiousdannii Jan 13 '16 at 22:28
  • 1
    @curiousdannii, thanks. I should try to be less lazy about searching for duplicates before answering. – JEL Jan 13 '16 at 22:30

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