One Right Way

One Right Way (ORW)

6/28/09: One Right Way:
inventory of postings (through 6/28/09) on One Right Way in usage advice

One Right Way  is the “one form, one meaning” principle (which has been articulated by a number of writers in various contexts) turned into usage advice, with two parts:

(1) There is One Right Way to use an expression; a form should have only one meaning.

(2) There is One Right Way to express a meaning; a meaning should be expressed by only one form. No true synonyms.

Both clauses are used to object to lexical innovations (or what are perceived to be innovations), among other things: clause (1) to object to extensions of meanings (decimate ‘devastate’ is a famous example) and to category shifts (verbings, nounings, and adjings, as in the case of fun); and clause (2) to object to novel lexical items, including back-formations, and also to the cases covered by (1) (on the grounds that the language already has ways of expressing the meaning in question).  There are other uses as well, described in the postings below.

The inventory covers only postings where the label One Right Way is used. As a result, they’re all by me, since I’m the writer who regularly uses this label (in these blogs and in ADS-L).


More generally, ORW embodies the instinct to object to variation in itself, and to insist that only one spelling, only one punctuation, only one pronunciation, only one of alternative inflectional forms, indeed only one meaning (per word) should be counted as correct.

Language Log Classic

AZ, 5/3/05: Don’t do this at home, kiddies!:
restrictive which vs. that

AZ, 2/11/06: Whatever is not prohibited is permitted – not!:

AZ, 9/13/06: The tyranny of the majority, and other reasons for choosing a variant:
alternative forms for names of institutions of higher learning

AZ, 2/24/07: Tolerating variation, or not:
adjectives in –al vs. –able

AZ, 7/22/07: One will get you four more:
a quarter to/till/until/before/of ten

AZ, 12/30/07: Blameless:
blame Y on X vs. blame X for Y

New Language Log

AZ, 5/15/08: approve (of):

AZ, 5/16/08: protest of:

AZ, 7/13/08: Test obscenity, taboo avoidance, and prescriptivism:
different from/to/than

AZ, 7/30/08: Not exactly a smackdown:
use of whom; standard vs. non-standard usage

AZ, 10/30/08: Periods:
periods in abbreviations using initial letters

AZ, 3/24/09: Wordy, not classy, and lazy:
role of ORW in Omit Needless Words

AZ, 4/4/09: Agreement with disjunctive subjects:
alternative resolutions of Disjunctive Agreement conflicts

AZ, 5/15/09: Rigid complementarity:
ORW enforced by assumption (1) The only places [the lesser] variant X is acceptable are where it’s obligatory.

AZ, 5/8/09: Making distinctions 1:
posting to/on/in a blog

Arnold Zwicky’s blog

12/28/08: for/because:

My speculation about [Ambrose Bierce’s prescription on] for/because treats it as similar to which/that (and, in fact, but/however and much/a lot, and probably more pairs, though the details are different in each case.)

Involvement of ORW in the prescriptions

5/19/09: Stick to those good old irregular plurals:
dwarfs vs. dwarves

6/19/09: McIntyre, simmering:
prohibition of “split verbs”

12/8/09: each other:

the “rule” on choosing each other or one another as a reciprocal: each other restricted to two, one another to more than two. This strict differentiation — an aggressive application of the One Right Way idea — has a long history (going back at least to 1785), sketched in MWDEU

1/9/10: Bald assertion:
two thousand ten, ten thousand and ten, twenty ten

1/10/10: Year names (cont.):

2/8/10: Going to something and ruin:
rack, wrack, wreck

8/1/10: The obscenicons vs. the grawlixes:
term for these visual symbols

11/25/10: imposter vs. impostor:

1/5/11: Falsely masculine names:
given names for gay men: nicknames vs. full

3/6/11: Inflection rage:
PST of SINK: sank vs. sunk; denying the possibility of variation in inflectional forms

3/21/11: Solidification:
over e-mail/email, cell phone/cellphone, smart phone/smartphone

this is not even a tempest in a teapot, it’s a fuss in a thimbleful of spit, a matter of no consequence at all

7/17/11: More on Google+:
idiom everybody and his/their brother

7/24/11: Disregarding context:
the role of ORW in deprecating “dangling modifiers”

10/31/11: for on the desktop:
bare vs. P-marked adverbials

1/30/13: Another invented “rule”:
there vs. over there

10/16/13: Apostrophe in plural:
plural of MBA: MBAs or MBA’s?

When I’ve looked at other cases of such variation, my conclusion has almost always been: Why should anyone care? What difference does it make? These are orthographic equivalents of phonological variants in speech, and they rarely have any consequences for understanding, so why insist on One Right Way?

9/16/14: How do you spell /fæp/?:
2 spellings for 3 items

Spelling variation often excites passions. Even where both variants seem to have standard status (and are recognized as such in dictionaries) — as for AGING and AGEING, MOVABLE and MOVEABLE, productive suffix -IZE and -ISE, and many others — many are inclined to insist that only one spelling is correct, to insist that there is One Right Way (a usage attitude I have deprecated on other occasions).

4/15/15: -ity and -ness:

There is some tradition for complaining about the choice of -ness when a variant in -ity is available — on the grounds that using the -ness version makes it look like you’re ignorant of the more learnèd variant, that is, makes you look illiterate.

I don’t have a lot of patience with such complaints in general, in part because -ity variants are so often specialized in their semantics: no doubt some people would find the connotations of humility to go beyond mere humbleness. In this particular case, I simply find both variants natural; there’s no reason to insist on One Right Way.

5/19/15: so (that):
MWDEU entry about doctrine for choosing either so or so that

10/15/16: Grammar nazi on the loose in the library:
like declared to be usable only as a verb

8/25/18: Fantasy originalism:
pronunciation of the alphabetic abbreviation GIF