Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: underway; under way.

underway; under way. Some dictionaries record the term as two words when used adverbially, one word when used as an adjective preceding the noun {underway refueling}. In the phrases “get underway” (= to get into motion) and “be underway” (= to be in progress), the term is increasingly made one word, and it would be convenient to make that transformation, which is already underway, complete in all uses of the word. *”Under weigh” for “underway” is a visual malapropism undoubtedly based on a mistaken association with the nautical phrase “to weigh anchor” — e.g.: o “After driving off planes, both ships got under weigh [read ‘underway’] by cutting our mooring lines.” Harry Levins, “The Chief Yelled, ‘This Is No War Game!'” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 6 Dec. 1991, at 6. o “After all, the life dynamic at play aboard a sailing ship under weigh [read ‘underway’] is trust.” Mark McGarrity, “Joining the Sail Century,” Star-Ledger (Newark), 30 June 2000, at 1. Although most other compound words starting with “under-” are closed, the major newspaper style manuals still make “underway” two words. That’s unfortunate, but it shouldn’t stop the rest of us from adopting the more natural “underway.” Language-Change Index — *”under weigh” for “underway”: Stage 1. *Invariably inferior form. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “Clearly one person’s neutral word may be negative and offensive to another, and it is sometimes difficult to predict how one’s words may be misinterpreted.” Dennis Baron, Declining Grammar and Other Essays on the English Vocabulary 186 (1989).

1 thought on “Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: underway; under way.”

  1. Bryan, although I agree with your usage tips just about all the time, I question whether “underway” is really preferable gramatically. I’ve always believed that “under way” is, in fact, a nautical term — but with “way,” not “weigh.” My understanding is that ships “make way” (and that’s how the term is used repeatedly used in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubry-Maturin series, which sounds authentic to me). So, a ship that is making way is under way — in both cases two words. “Underway” just looks odd to me.

    And I’ll use this opportunity to ask you to consider including these in your usage tips, which I don’t think you’ve done:

    1. A pretty common malapropism: “hone in” instead of “home in”

    2. “Than” instead of “from” in certain uses of “different” — as in “a house is different than an office”

    3. “As such” used as a synonym for “accordingly” — e.g., “The law does not permit the result defendant seeks. As such, the court must deny the motion to dismiss.”

    Thanks for listening —

    Robin Meadow

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