In Swedish the word "Särskrivning" describes the incorrect splitting apart of compound words into individual words and the resulting change in meaning. An English example I can think of: groundhog vs. ground hog. The former is an animal, the latter a tasty meal when cooked.

Is there an equivalent English word or phrase for this concept?

  • 5
    Well, I'd be tempted to call them splitting headaches....
    – Dan Bron
    May 8, 2016 at 12:40
  • 2
    It's something that's only occasionally done in English (since there aren't that many splits that would change meaning), so I doubt that one can find a recognizable term (though I suppose there may be an obscure one).
    – Hot Licks
    May 8, 2016 at 12:55
  • That's kind of what I'm expecting the answer to be. Google sometimes translates the word as "split compound" depending on context. That's probably close enough, but doesn't seem quite right. May 8, 2016 at 13:00
  • Not sure what the "concept" is. That a compound is greater than the sum of its parts?
    – TRomano
    May 8, 2016 at 14:31
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    @Anonym What you’re referring to is rebracketing or metanalysis, an entirely different thing. This is about open, closed, and hyphenated compounds—more specifically indicating the compoundness in an incorrect manner: writing ‘water fall’ instead of ‘waterfall’ or ‘wishingwell’ instead of ‘wishing well’. In Swedish, compounds are (nearly) always written closed, so the word that means to write them open has taken on the meaning of incorrectly writing them open. I don’t believe there is a word for that in English. Mar 31, 2018 at 1:36

3 Answers 3


No, there is not an equivalent word since split compound words is the norm in English.

The compound-word-splitting is a hassle in Swedish because all nouns are either one word (rektor - principal), a hyphenated compound word (e-post - e-mail) or a compounded word (sjuksköterska - nurse).

The last example is a Swedish compound of sjuk (sick) and sköterska (carer). As one word it means nurse (a carer of the sick) but if you split it into two it means a sick carer.

In Swedish you can create new word by compounding them to change their meanings. However, splitting compounded words into smaller pieces can change their meaning or, in most cases, make them loose their meaning completely. E.g. a lorry truck driver would just be written as one compounded word in Swedish: lastbilsförare. Splitting last, bil(s) and förare into three pieces would not make any sense; they still have their separate meanings but it would be like listing words without any connection between them. It’s like someone would write “I’m a lorry, truck, driver” – you would probably get what they mean but it would be annoying reading texts like that. Or, like in the example above; is the person in question a carer of the sick (nurse) or a sick carer? Either that person stated their profession or their health status and profession, however, you can't always be sure if it's as the text says or a spelling mistake with some compounded words when they are split up.

The 's' in parentheses is put between some sounds in Swedish to make the compounded words flow better. This is known as "foge-s" (a binding letter s) in Swedish.

  • This is partly true, but not entirely. Some compounds are always written closed in English, some always open, some always hyphenated, and some vacillate between the three options. It’s just as much an error in English to write water fall, foot ball, or note book as it would be in Swedish to write vatten fall, fot boll, or note(s) bok. I believe you’re right, though, that unlike in Swedish, English doesn’t have a word meaning to incorrectly write a compound open when it should be written closed. Mar 31, 2018 at 1:44

There's a thing called metanalysis which is similar. "An orange" should really be "a norange", from Spanish naranja.

Now while looking up the exact word I found "hamburger". Ham doesn't mean cured pork and burger doesn't mean "flat round thing" in this context; they allegedly originated in Hamburg, the German city. So you could consider "chicken burger" to be close (and a culinary abomination to boot).

P.S. It might be an urban myth, but there was supposed to be a company that made writing equipment, called "Pen Island". Their website implied something quite different...

  • Merriam-Webster online offers a concise entry for metanalysis (which it dates to 1914) here.
    – Sven Yargs
    Mar 31, 2018 at 5:01

I suspect the closest word or phrase that exists in English would be misnomer, on the grounds that using a "compound" word as if it were separable with the same meaning would be an error.

For example, calling a pig laying on the ground a "groundhog" would be a misnomer. Similarly, calling the season-predicting rodent a "ground hog" would also be one. They are separate words/phrases and attempting to interchange them on apparent similarity is a misnomer.

However, I am not aware of any word or phrase that would also convey that implicit similarity.

  • This would work as a more general term. Definitely not nearly as specific though. Jun 8, 2016 at 17:40

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