Thursday, February 12, 2015

Homework Tales: Compound Words

Copyright: bonumopus / 123RF Stock Photo
Yet again, we have been stumped by elementary school homework. This happens much more frequently than I feel it should. Today's quandary was compound words. Now, I understand that this seems to be a straightforward concept. Doghouse, sailboat, homework. I get it, I really do. Until I got to this word: subway. I've always thought of "sub" as more of a prefix - subway, subzero, submarine - not a word all on its own. Because it is not a word all by itself, my instinct was to say no, subway is not a compound word. But then I read the instructions: they were given a list of words that had to be placed into four predetermined categories: ends in "er" sounds, ends in "el" sounds, irregular plurals/possessives, or compound words. Thus, subway would have to go in the compound word category because it clearly does NOT go in any of the other three (and I'm guessing adding a 5th "none of the above" category is against the rules).

Leave it to my friend Kelli, truly one of the smartest people I know (including scoring 800 verbal on the SAT) to seek a definitive solution. And I quote, "In my nerdy quest for a really authoritative answer, I just signed up for a free trial of the Chicago Manual of Style Online. They do indeed have a section on compound words formed with prefixes (7.85, section 4, in case anyone else cares). The examples given for "sub" are subbasement, subzero, and subcutaneous. Although the focus of the article is proper hyphenation rather than the precise linguistic meaning of "compound," I'm not about to argue with that source. (So yes, "prefix" and "unnatural" would both fall under that heading as compounds.)"

I am totally fine with being wrong. What I'm now annoyed about is that the above definition means they are teaching the definition of compound word incorrectly! Lovely. Another friend asked if it really matters. In the real world, no, I don't think it does. But if they are going to ask him on a test that determines whether or not he passes the 5th grade if the word "unnatural" is a compound word, then yes it matters!

Currently feeling: completely exasperated

No comments:

Post a Comment

My apologies for not allowing comments from Anonymous users. I was getting way too much spam. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment!