To-day and to-morrow

I thought this would have been covered in a post before, but I can’t seem to find it with the SDMB search engine.

Up until about 1950, the word we know of now as “today” was usually spelled with a dash between the “to” and “day”. I’ve even seen “tomorrow” spelled as “to-morrow,” along with many other words; “light-bulb,” “air-plane” and so on. Why was this the practice then, and why did it change?

The general tendency in English is that a compound first exists as separate words, then as a hyphenated compound, then as a single compound word. Modern style is to eliminate as many hyphens as possible. There’s no guidance I know of for deciding when to do so. The zeitgeist shifts and that’s that.

The Chicago Manual of Style (13th ed. 1982) says:

Upon what source(s) are you basing your question?

From what I’ve seen in print, mostly: advertising, newspapers, and so on.

to 1940s - “SALE TO-DAY”
1940s to present - “SALE TODAY”

I just searched a historical newspaper database using “to-day” and “today.” I searched in 20 year blocks between 1880-1980. Results:Hits expressed in K=thousands


“to-day” …302K…292K…122K…66K …61K

How many of the "to-day’ hits though were broken over two lines? The full image ProQuest databases are pretty peculiar when it comes to searching something with a hyphen.

The OED still gives a thumbs up to both spellings.

I tend to use spelling that I find aesthetically pleasing. I used to spell ‘to-day’ and ‘to-morrow’, but I stopped sometime in the '80s for some reason. I still want to spell ‘connexion’ for some time after reading that spelling in books. I remember Harlan Ellison spelling ‘compleat’, and I always have to stop to think of the more common spelling. And whenever I read the word ‘goal’ I think of someone behind bars because I subconsciously reverse the vowels.

Nowadays I’ll spell words with the common spelling, or I’ll spell them the more aesthetic way depending on how they come out at the time and I’ve stopped caring what people think.

Back in my formative years (read “the dark ages”), I was a big fan of the Hardy Boys series of books. My mom, and avid Garage Sale hopper, found a whole lot of the books that were published in the 30s and bought them for me. This was in the mid-60s.

Even at age 8 I was amused at the anachronisms, confused by the blatant racism in some of them, and the thing that sticks in my mind the most is the use of to-day and to-morrow. This was the first time I’d run across this.

So it’s not a myth, as far as I know.

The trend (not the rule) in spelling words tends to be this way:

  1. two words (to day, e mail, base ball)
  2. then hyphenated (to-day, e-mail, base-ball)
  3. then one word (today, email, baseball)