The following memo is from William M. Alley, Chief, USGS Office of Groundwater (ouch!).
No, this is not a premature April Fools' Day stunt. Would I do such a thing?
In Reply Refer To: March 26, 2009
Mail Stop 411
OFFICE OF GROUNDWATER TECHNICAL MEMORANDUM 2009.03
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 (should I write Office of GW, or is it just Office of G?)
This memorandum supersedes Ground Water Branch Technical Memorandum No. 75.03
Thanks to Mary P. Anderson, Editor-in-Chief of the journal Ground Water, which is published by the National Ground Water Association, for sending me this item. The NGWA and the American Water Resources Association (AWRA) are the only two major USA professional societies who still use the two-word spelling. Some other Federal agencies, such as the EPA, also use the two-word spelling. The betting is that they will change to the one-word spelling.
Many of you are no doubt wondering: so what? For many groundwater practitioners, this has been a big deal for many years and has led to editorials, caustic memos, shouting matches, and even fisticuffs (or so I've heard). To understand the gravitas of this issue you may want to read my earlier post, The Great Hydrogeologic Question of Our Era: One Word, or Two, or Who Cares?
See this article from Vicki Kretsinger Grabert from the journal Ground Water (yes, two words):
I started out as a one-worder, following the lead of my PhD advisor, the late Gene Simpson, a former English major. He insisted it was one word, unlike surface water, soil water, etc., simply because English is illogical with few (no?) rules. He pointed to the early works in groundwater by German speakers, who, in keeping with their language's rules, combined 'Grund' + 'Wasser' to produce 'Grundwasser'.
Somewhere along the way I started flip-flopping and I finally became a two-worder, although I do not feel strongly either way and am glad the USGS did what it did.
The times, they are a-changing, and so am I: one word from now on. I started out using groundwater as one word, so it is appropriate that I finish my career that way.
One question: now that we are using groundwater as one word, should we use the abbreviation "GW" for "groundwater", or should it be "G", as one wag indicated to me?
"By such innovations are languages enriched, when the words are adopted by the multitude, and naturalized by custom." -- Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, author of Don Quixote (thanks to Terry Meyer)