This might already be a losing battle, but someone has to weigh in on it: I no longer can stand as a silent witness to the wanton destruction of the very useful spaces that prevent perfectly good words from running into each other.

I've been fretting about this for years (probably too long, in fact) and already have lost some important battles, such as when the Associated Press Stylebook, the bible in these matters, ruled that "underway" henceforth would be one word in all uses, and not just when describing the movements of naval vessels. That day, in April 2013, saw silent tears in newsrooms around the world.

This issue has returned to the forefront in the past few weeks as Oregon voters debate the merits of Measure 101, the Jan. 23 referendum on new taxes to fund Oregon's Medicaid program (and, yes, these are taxes, not "assessments," but more about that later). Measure 101 has prompted plenty of debate around the state, as evidenced by the sheer number of letters to the editor we've received, not to mention political advertising of all sorts, including yard signs, direct mail pieces and considerable other paraphernalia. 

And many of the letters and other messages we've received about the measure, both for and against, are missing something important: The space between the words "health" and "care."

That's right: "Health care" is not yet one word.

Don't take my word for it: It's right there, listed as two words, in "Chapter H" in the AP Stylebook. (Longtime readers of the column may recall that I have access to the electronic version of the Stylebook, which means that I can access this fact and many others just by grabbing my smartphone. That's right: At parties or other social gatherings, I can access the Stylebook right there and hold forth on this and many other fascinating style points, which probably explains why I'm never invited to parties or other social gatherings.)

The same principle is at work in "day care," a similar term which also is two words despite our insistent efforts to push it together into one.

I'm not sure I understand the reasoning behind these efforts to jam together two words into one, although one horrible result of the trend has been the capitalization of letters in the middle of words: "HealthCare." If the idea there is to signal to the reader that one word is ending and another beginning, let me suggest that an actual space is a somewhat more efficient and elegant way to get that idea across.

Perhaps we are just in too much of a hurry these days to worry about niceties such as spaces between words; who has time to pause between words? Perhaps we have read articles somewhere about a pending worldwide shortage of spaces and just want to preserve this precious natural resource. But rest easy, concerned reader: I can assure you that, despite the financial woes the newspaper industry is facing, we can afford to buy some extra spaces to get us through the last week or so of debate over Measure 101. (Theweekaftertheelectionmightbeaproblem,however.)

I worry that "health care" and "day care" might be lost causes, that the battle already might be lost. I fear for the day when I open up my email (the word "email" used to be hyphenated, by the way, until a recent AP update) to learn that the AP's style mavens have bowed to public pressure and anointed "healthcare" as one word. (In fact, I worry about why AP has seen fit to jam together two words to create the title of its "Stylebook.") But until that day comes, I am resolved to keep up the fight for "health care" as two words.

Now, as you race back to your word processor to hastily edit your letter to the editor about Measure 101, let's talk briefly about whether the provisions in the measure, a 0.7 percent tax on hospitals and a 1.5 percent tax on certain health care premiums are, in fact, taxes. (By the way, note that the phrase "health care premiums" does not require a hyphen.)

These are taxes. But don't take my word for it: That's how legislators referred to them when they voted on this funding package in 2017. And that's how proponents (including Gov. Kate Brown, state officials, legislative analysts, Medicaid providers, labor unions and other supporters and opponents) have routinely referred to them. But it's OK; if you think Measure 101 is good public policy, you still can vote for it, even if it's a tax.

Just don't call it a "healthcare" tax. (mm)

Mike McInally is the editor of the Democrat-Herald and the Gazette-Times. He can be contacted at mike.mcinally@lee.net. If he's standing in a corner by himself at a party, you know why. 

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