Grammar

Why There’s a Grammar Debate About Hot Water Heaters

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I find myself amazed by the kind of grammar debates people can engage in. Here’s an example: the debate about hot water heaters.

Have you heard the term hot water heaters before? When I was a kid, that’s exactly what we called them.

I think that’s what a lot of people use to refer to those giant tanks hidden somewhere in their homes. As you can surely guess, their function is making sure your home has a constant supply of heated water.

And here’s where the Associated Press gets into the act. The Associated Press Stylebook is a style guide many news agencies and other sources rely on for consistency.

The Associated Press Stylebook advises against referring to them as “hot water heaters.” They say they’re “water heaters.” In discussing AP Style a few years back, the Frederick News-Post said it quite plainly:

Water heater: Not “hot water heater.”

The prevailing wisdom behind that argument states the phrase is redundant. You don’t heat hot water.

On first glance, that makes sense.

On second glance, the argument might just crumble a little. You heat hot water until it reaches the temperature it’s supposed to reach. And then you maintain some level of heat, even sporadically. If you didn’t that hot water would cool down to lukewarm if not cool water.

So you do heat hot water. That’s how you make sure it stays hot.

Still, at some point, it seems the rest of the world quietly dropped the word hot from their name. I even checked with Lowe’s and Home Depot, hoping to find someone calling it what I always heard it called. No dice.

So I’ve learned something new. Hot water heaters are “officially” just water heaters.

If I ever have another occasion in my life to write about a water heater — and I can’t imagine why I ever would — I’ll do my best to remember that.

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2 Comments

  1. I too grew up calling them hot water heaters. But happily, I discovered Rinnai TANKLESS water heaters so I can enjoy my 6-heads shower and NOT run out of hot water! Some people have called my shower a CAR WASH because of the volume of HOT water it offers!

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  2. Well, I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard and read “worldwide pandemic” in the past few weeks, but I’m not sure whether they are ignorant of the redundancy or if they are just trying to be more emphatic. No matter what we call it, though, we are definitely finding ourselves in hot water these days…and it’s heating up, too.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 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.