“I have nothing but contempt for anyone who can spell a word only one way,” is one of those great things Thomas Jefferson never said but we sure wish he did. We do tend to insist on single spellings, more so than we did during Jefferson’s time, except to allow for the American variations handed down by the reform-minded Noah Webster.
I changed another comprised of to composed of in an editing assignment yesterday, not because the word doesn’t have a well-established second meaning, but because it’s one of those things sticklers love to stickle.
Copyeditors know that the whole comprises the parts, that comprises means iscomposed of. Comprised of is considered poor usage. So is saying parts comprise the whole, which is a common usage that could cause confusion.
Part of the debate around our reactions to the death of Freddie Gray and the subsequent protesting and rioting in Baltimore is the language used. Are the rioters thugs? Are the protestors rioting? Are the rioters actually protesting or just destroying things?
Word lovers love the people who define our words, the lexicographers who spend their time identifying new construction and new usage and tracing etymology and relationships.
These are among the rock stars of the word world, and they share a symbiotic relationship with the copyeditors. Copyeditors turn to the dictionaries to decide whether a word is appropriate, and lexicographers look for evidence of word usage in written text.
The word culture entered the language in its most common forms less than two centuries ago, but in all its forms it is in the top 1,000 most-common words in American English. According to the Corpus of Contemporary American English, culture ranks 612, making it more frequently seen than brother, marriage, opportunity, and stuff.