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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Jimmy Carter's Greatest Wrong Finally Righted

An actual memorandum from the United States Geological Service:

In Reply Refer To: March 26, 2009
Mail Stop 411


Subject: GROUNDWATER: Ground water versus groundwater

It has been a longstanding practice within the USGS to spell ground water as two words and to hyphenate when ground water is used as a modifier (e.g., ground-water hydrology). Ground Water Branch Technical Memorandum 75.03 ( issued just under 35 years ago specified that the two-word form should be used.

Language evolves, and it is clear that the one-word spelling of groundwater has become the preferred usage both nationally and internationally. The one-word spelling has been used by the Merriam-Webster online dictionary since 1998. Most water-resources publications also use the one-word spelling, as do many technical groups, such as the National Research Council. With the emphasis on interdisciplinary science, many USGS scientists who are not specialists in the field commonly use the one-word form, as increasingly do many hydrologists within the Water Resources Discipline.

The term surface water has not seen the same language simplification that has occurred with the term groundwater. Surface water continues in the English language universally spelled as two words. Use of the two terms together spelled as groundwater and surface water has become common usage.

With this memorandum, we are making a transition to the use of groundwater as one word in USGS. Changeover to use of the one-word spelling in our publications and web sites will be accomplished as seamlessly as possible. Reports in preparation should be converted to the one-word spelling where this does not require a special effort. Reports submitted for approval after August 1, 2009, will be expected to use the one-word form. During this transition period, the one-word or two-word spelling should be used consistently throughout a publication.

William M. Alley
Chief, Office of Groundwater

This memorandum supersedes Ground Water Branch Technical Memorandum No. 75.03


  1. Since the original memo dates from August 22nd, 1974, what drags Carter's name into this? Seems to me it would be a Ford thing, and thus probably related to the cause of the automaker's recent decline in fortunes. Q.E.D.

  2. General, Sir:

    I know how Mr. Alley feels. I'm constantly embarrassed and left feeling inadequate when corresponding with my legislators. I can never get it straight. Is it:

    "I fear that you are seriously mistaken, sir, re: the instant situation"


    "You're completely full of bullshit, you lying sackofshit fuckface" ?

  3. Thank God they straightened out this ongoing travesty.

    Next week they're issuing a memorandum declaring that it is no longer necessary to capitalize Internet, hyphenate e-mail, or spell out World Wide Web.

  4. Bongwater or bong water?

  5. I'm reminded of a running joke in the Bob & Ray book Write if You Get Work, in which a memo from a government office goes on about how groundhog meat should really be read as ground hog meat, which should be referred to as sausage.

  6. Ha. Ha. Ha. Now that you know how us copy editors spend our sad, sad little lives, maybe you'll be a bit more forgiving of our excessive drinking and drunken tantrums over the misuse of its vs it's.

  7. Anonymous10:04 AM

    This reminds me of a story I heard on NPR after Stephen Harper was elected prime minister in Canada. A government geologist in British Columbia was disciplined for failing to use the phrase “the New Government of Canada” in internal memos. Instead, he just used the phrase, “Canadian government.” Talk about a Bozo no-no.

    So, never underestimate the pettiness of petty bureaucrats.


We'll try dumping haloscan and see how it works.