Thursday, September 18, 2014

Yes and no, but no, and yes. And no.

Q. Hello. How would you write "a drugmaker that makes generic drugs": "generic-drug maker," "generic-drug-maker" or something else? Thanks. – from Tustin, Calif. on Thu, Sep 18, 2014
A. The Stylebook spelling is drugmaker, so the first is correct.
Dear AP: You're at least partly right about something, though not about what the questioner asks or even entirely about what you answer. The question from Tustin appears to be about how to shorten the phrase by preposing "generic drugs," not about whether the longer form is already correct-ish. You could instead be raising consciousness about why "generic-drug maker" is an exception to the Stylebook's spelling of "drugmaker."

What we want to avoid is letting the Stylebook drag us into doing something stupid -- making the drugmaker, rather than the drugs, generic, in the same sort of way careless writers turn women who run small businesses into teeny-tiny businesswomen.You don't want the adjective to modify the compound noun: small businesswoman, generic drugmaker. What you want is a compound modifier, and you're going to link it up just the way Tustin suggested: small-business woman, generic-drug maker. Or you can just use the longer form: A maker of generic drugs, women who run small businesses. And if someone wails that you're not being consistent, you should respond: At least I'm not being dumb.

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