The Daily Journal, Monday, June 10

In today’s Journal

* Intro
* Topic: Backseat vs. Back Seat

Later today I’ll be on the road to the Lower Gila Box Wilderness in southwest New Mexico for a few days of camping with my friend.

For today, tomorrow and Wednesday, I’ll post only a topic. I’ll probably write while I’m on the trip, and I’ll update numbers, “Of Interest,” etc. when I get back.

For now, I recommend you check Kris Rusch’s site for her Free Fiction Monday, Dean’s site, etc.


Topic: Backseat vs. Back Seat

The other day I was scrolling through the CrimeReads weekly digest looking for items for “Of Interest.”

I came upon an article, the title of which grabbed my attention, a profile of a novelist by another writer.

But the first sentence of the description and the actual article stopped me cold:

“This story begins in the backseat of a minivan, talking to an inquisitive child about zoos and dinosaurs.”

I can’t take seriously any work by a writer who apparently doesn’t know the difference between “backseat” (an adjective) and “back seat” (“back” is the adjective describing “seat,” the noun).

A noun describes a person, place or thing. In this case the place or thing being described was a seat in a minivan. The “back” seat.

I’ve seen other writers struggle with the difference too, between any of several adjectives formed by combining two words and their similar adjective-noun (two-word) combinations.

In every case, the combined word is an ajective. It begs another word, a noun, for the sentence to make sense.

the frontyard (garden)

the backyard (swing)

a backseat (driver)

a sometime (friend)

On the other hand, you would never write

the front yard garden (That would indicate something called a “yard garden” in front of your house. What’s a “yard garden”?)

back yard swing (Again, a “yard swing”?)

back seat driver (What’s a “seat driver”?)

some time friend (A “time friend”? What’s that?)

There are many other word pairings that mean something different when the words are combined to form a single adjective than they mean when the words are left separate to form an adjective phrase.

And yes, I realize this is nitpicky. But one important part of your job as a writer is to understand the nuances of the language.

Is this something you should “think” about when you’re writing?

No. Absolutely not.

But it’s something you should learn and understand so that when you write it comes out through your fingertips.

And you CAN learn it, just as you learned to put a little round dot at the end of sentence to indicate where the sentence ends.

‘Til next time, happy writing!



2 thoughts on “The Daily Journal, Monday, June 10”

  1. Hm… according to the Webster’s I keep on my desk, “backseat” and “back seat” are interchangeable as nouns. The version for a driver, they hyphenate to “back-seat driver”. So I guess it depends on what dictionary you use.

    For the record, I do “back seat” the same way you do, including no hyphen in “backseat driver”. I do have some combinations that people have remarked on, though, that I’ve confirmed with Webster’s are actually correct, such as my use of “guesthouse” when many folks think only “guest house” is correct. Webster’s says both are right. One of my upcoming blog posts for PWW is actually about this very issue. 🙂

    • Yes, all depends on the dictionary and personal preference. I can only teach what I prefer. I am firmly against the dumbing down of America.

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