If you were to follow the journalistic style standards set out by the Associated Press, they’d tell you that you should be writing “health care” as two words and not as the single word “healthcare.” However, just as I typed those terms into my web browser, neither of them came up as a spelling mistake. Given this, should both forms be accepted? Is there a difference between the two? What about related terms like childcare and eldercare? Well, it’s complicated.
According to Archelle on Health, there are multiple “conventions” when it comes to the “health care” vs. “healthcare” debate. Yes, AP says that we should stick with the two-word form, but other people will tell you that the two-word form is a noun, whereas the one-word form is an adjective. Further still, some may say that “health care” refers to the actual care you receive from medical professionals, whereas “healthcare” refers more to the system (insurance, costs, reform, etc.). You can argue for or against any of these interpretations.
Childcare or Child Care?
The issue with childcare, child care and child-care could be just as muddy. The good news is that, like so many other things in English, this largely falls on the difference between British and American conventions. When used as a noun on its own, “child care” is typically written as two separate words with American English. If you were to use the term as an adjective, you could still keep them as separate words, but some American conventions would say you should use a hyphen: child-care.
If we were to change gears to British English, the convention leans more toward using the compound word “childcare” under all circumstances. You’d talk about the business of childcare (noun), just as you would talk about available childcare (adjective) programs. And as with so many other grammatical issues, Canadians may have once aligned with British conventions, but many have since adopted American conventions instead. I even catch myself writing color far more often than colour.
Eldercare, Elder Care, Elderly Care…
If healthcare and childcare weren’t already complicated enough, caring for the elderly could be even more challenging. Part of this may come out of a desire to be politically correct about how we refer to older folks who may require some assistance for their day-to-day tasks.
The main entry on Wikipedia is for “elderly care,” though it also notes that “eldercare” and “aged care” can be equally acceptable. That being said, as I type this into my web browser, “eldercare” as a single compound word is coming up as a spelling mistake. Given this, I may be more inclined to split it up into “elder care” or “elderly care.” And this doesn’t even open the massive can of worms for nursing homes, assisted living homes, senior homes and retirement homes.
One highly unscientific and totally unofficial way to gauge which term (and spelling) is generally preferred is to compare the number of respective search results in Google. Eldercare has 18 million results, elderly care has 25 million and elder care has 30 million. That’s not too much of a difference. Interestingly, aged care has a more substantial 52 million, though we don’t hear this term nearly as often in North America. By far the most popular term, based on my searches, appears to be senior care with an estimated 215 million search results.
An Increased Preference for Compound Words?
In the interest of brevity, many terms that were once separate words have become compound words. I still think it’s strange when I see the word cellphone, but it is quickly becoming the norm.
Given this, even though “child care” is still preferred by many, I feel it’s only a matter of time before American English also accepts childcare as the most common spelling. The same may happen with “eldercare” too… though “seniorcare” just looks weird, doesn’t it?