Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: watermark; water-mark; water mark.

watermark; water-mark; water mark. “Watermark” = (1) a line made by a body of water at its surface (as in a flood) and used to gauge the water’s depth; or (2) a faint identifying mark pressed into fine paper during manufacture, or an analogous identifier embedded in a computer file by software. The word in sense 2 is always written as a single compound, while in sense 1 it may also be hyphenated or made two words. When sense 1 is modified by adjectives such as “high” and “low,” the compound noun must be split since the adjective specifically modifies “water,” forming a phrasal adjective that in turn modifies “mark’ {the high-water mark of her career}. To write of a *”high watermark” is to invite miscues, as the reader may think of a paper-company logo too near the top of a page — e.g.: o “The oyster reached its high watermark [read ‘high-water mark’] here in the last decade of the 19th Century. At least half a dozen restaurants known as ‘oyster houses’ vied for the carriage trade with a variety of preparations.” William Rice, “Raw Deal,” Chicago Trib., 23 June 2002, Mag. §, at 25. o “In today’s Information Age, work is accomplished — or should be — through a series of linked processes where client service, flexibility and cost containment have replaced volume as the high watermark for [read ‘high-water mark of’] success.” John A. Uzzi, “What It Takes for Agencies to Thrive in the Information Age,” Nat’l Underwriter — Life & Health, 30 Sept. 2002, at 29. (Unfortunately, correcting ‘high watermark’ hardly improves this commercialese.) *Invariable inferior form. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “Authenticity in fiction is like sincerity in acting — you’ve got to know how to fake it.” Henry Louis Gates Jr., “Time Bandits,” New Yorker, 26 Jan. 1998, at 83. ====================
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