Grammar

Should ‘Barbershop’ Be One Word or Two?

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When it’s time for a gentleman to get a haircut, would he go to a barber shop or barbershop? While one may be preferred, it’s a little complicated.

You’ve seen those old-school businesses with the famous red and white striped pole revolving in a glass cylinder. But do you refer to those places by their common name, do you use one word or two? It seems most dictionaries have their own answer to the question, “Barber Shop or Barbershop.” But some businesses don’t seem to care what the dictionaries say.

When I go to get a haircut, I usually end up in what you would more likely call a “salon.” But occasionally, I like going to an old-fashioned barber. When I was a kid, the barber was almost always a man, although the man who cut my hair longer than anyone else was married to a woman who also served as a barber and she cut my hair a few times as well.

Nowadays, when you go to a salon, it’s sometimes hard to find a male barber.

Honestly, I don’t really care which gender my barber happens to be as long as they listen to what I ask for and can deliver.

But is it barber shop or barbershop?

Since I work in the journalism field, the first place I typically turn to for the answer to a question like this would be the Associated Press Stylebook. The majority of newsrooms follow AP Style to encourage consistency in the style of their writing.

Alas, the trusty Stylebook doesn’t have a listing for either one. That might lead us to believe that on this particular debate, AP Style doesn’t seem to care.

In fact, a quick search of news stories from AP further emphasizes that point. I found one 2017 story with a headline that read, “Barbershops are back in style” and a 2018 story with this headline: “Barber shop talks bridge the gap between Triangle teens, officers.”

Well, that doesn’t help much, does it?

Wikipedia has an entry on barber and explains that his or her place of business is a barbershop or a barber’s. I’ve never once referred to a barbershop (or a barber shop) as a “barber’s.”

But that same article has a photo with a caption that spells it as one word and a second photo with a caption that spells it as two.

Merriam-Webster, meanwhile, offers two definitions of barbershop. The first is the obvious one. As a noun, it means the place where a barber works. The second is an adjective referring to a style of singing.

The dictionary doesn’t offer the two-word alternate as an option, which leads me to believe the single-word option is the correct one.

But it’s not quite that simple.

Sometimes, you have to set proper style aside when you are dealing with proper names. A quick Google search for such businesses near me reveal the names of a few barbers. I see names that include Oskar, Frank, Michael, C.J. and Ed. All of these — and a few others — have one little trait in common. They happen to choose to spell the name of their business as two words rather than one. 

I always spelled it with two words. So that seems normal to me.

However, I also had to recently write a news story about an investigation into a fatal shooting. This one occurred at a business that spelled it as a single word, so I wrote it that way.

Sometimes, regardless of a “preferred” spelling, if you’re referring to the proper name of a business, you should conform to how the business identifies itself.

It can complicate matters for those who prefer to have one, clear way of doing things. But at the same time, if you’re following the lead of the business you’re writing about, consistency isn’t a bad thing.

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.

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