Spelling Post Approval
May 30, 2011 10:38 PM   Subscribe

I can't find a definitive answer on the use of 'post' as a prefix. In particular with 'post approval' meaning 'after approval'.

The only reference I have handy is a Reader's Digest Great Illustrated Dictionary (1984) [I know! but it has such nice pictures] which says:
In forming compounds, post- is now usually joined with the following elements without space or hyphen. However, if the second element begins with a t or capital letter, it is separated with a hyphen.
In the absence of any other authority, I'm leaning towards 'postapproval' but it seems a bit awkward. So does anyone have a cite for, 'postapproval', 'post approval' or 'post-approval'?
posted by unliteral to Writing & Language (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have a cite, but by common sense, use "post-approval." It's the only one that reads how you want it to read. "postapproval" looks like Russian or something and "post-approval" sounds like you're approving a post.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:03 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Er sorry.

"post approval" sounds like you're approving a post.

I meant.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:04 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

FWIW, the AP Style guide indicates the same (not that I, as a British English speaker & writer, believe the AP Style Guide particularly). So "postapproval" would be recommended.

The only other reputable guide I have access to is the Times (UK) guide which doesn't seem to mention "post" as a prefix specifically, but it's rules for hyphenation of other prefixes basically boil down to 'don't hyphenate to adjectives; hyphenate to (most) others'. So that would suggest "post-approval", since 'approval' is a noun.

(Interestingly, it also seems to follow a rule of 'hyphenate to proper adjectives', which usually also start with capitals. So a phrase like "pre-Jewish civilisations" would be correct in both AP & Times.)
posted by Pinback at 11:12 PM on May 30, 2011

I think the disconnect has to do with our perception of words. "pre" is not considered a fully formed english word, in that it's only use is to put it in front of a word, so adjoining it to front of a word fits our sensibilities. "post" however, is a fully formed word with a definition beyond "after", so our brains want to separate it out. I wish I knew Latin, the answer is probably there somewhere.
posted by roboton666 at 12:29 AM on May 31, 2011

"Post-approval" is kind of an awkward example to search for if you only want to find prefixes, but we can use a more common phrase as a test case. On Google, "postapocalyptic" returns a mere 267,000 results, while "post-apocalyptic" returns over 6.7 million. News results show a similar imbalance -- 27 hits for the run-together version, 799 for the hyphenated one. So if you want to go with the crowd favorite (including from news sources), pick "post-approval."
posted by Rhaomi at 1:09 AM on May 31, 2011

What is this for? For everyday use, or an academic paper, or something else? Because my Chicago style guide might say one thing, but another manual might say another thing. (My guess is that Strunk and White, were they alive, would say, avoid neologisms, just say "following approval" or "pending approval.") To my eyes, "post-approval" seems right, while the others don't. But it would depend on the context.
posted by Busoni at 2:12 AM on May 31, 2011

As an addendum, I think your Reader's Digest dictionary is referring to words like "postbellum," "postclassical," or "postgraduate," not neologisms. So it's advising you to write "postdoctorate," not "post-doctorate," but "post-Impressionism," not "postimpressionism." But it doesn't apply to the kind of usage you seem to be thinking of, as in "I met Jamie post-coffee," for example.
posted by Busoni at 2:22 AM on May 31, 2011

My feeling is that new coinages have to serve some time with a hyphen, and only get to drop it when they've been in general use for a while.
posted by Segundus at 4:59 AM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

IANYCE (I am not your copy editor). But AP's guidance on "post-" is to follow Webster's New World College Dictionary and hyphenate if it's not listed there. "Postapproval" is not listed there, so AP would go with "post-approval." (Perhaps Pinback is looking at an older version?)

Regardless, I would also echo what others have said: There is never a "definitive" answer on matters of style beyond the style guide and dictionary you decide will be your authorities.
posted by Shoggoth at 5:15 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Basic rule of grammar -- Does this convey the meaning I want it to convey in the best way for the largest number of readers?

"Post approval" does that but could be construed like drjimmy11 says.
"Postapproval" looks a little weird.
"Post-approval" says what you want it to say, and only grammar prescriptivists would complain.

Go with the hyphen.
posted by Etrigan at 5:26 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

FWIW: When I come across this in material I'm editing, I would be OK with 'postapproval' if it were an adjective, but would hyphenate in a sentence like "I'm going to book my vacation, post-approval."
posted by troywestfield at 6:20 AM on May 31, 2011

> "Postapproval" looks a little weird.

This kind of argument is irrelevant; different things "look weird" to different people, and you can't base editing decisions on that kind of thing. Reader's Digest Great Illustrated Dictionary is not what I would call an authoritative source. The AP guide has been covered; the other major US style guide, Chicago, says (in the new 16th edition, 7.85, p. 383):
Compounds formed with prefixes are normally closed, whether they are nouns, verbs, adjectives, or adverbs. [Exceptions are listed: before capitals, compound terms, etc.] ...

postdoctoral, postmodernism, posttraumatic, but post-Vietnam, post–World War Two
So, yes, postapproval is correct (per Chicago). You can choose a style guide to follow or use whichever looks best to you. There is no "definitive answer."
posted by languagehat at 6:49 AM on May 31, 2011

I should add that I am a professional copyeditor, and have long since learned to suppress my personal feelings about how things "look" to me when working; my personal feelings are irrelevant. Editing text is all about consistency.
posted by languagehat at 6:51 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

This kind of argument is irrelevant; different things "look weird" to different people, and you can't base editing decisions on that kind of thing.
Editing text is all about consistency.

No, editing text is all about readability. If it derails the reader (which I will admit I could have expressed better than by saying "looks a little weird"), and there's an alternative that doesn't derail the reader, then go with the alternative.
posted by Etrigan at 7:43 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Unless it's a quick, informal email to someone you know well and who is totally in the loop on how you communicate and what you're talking about, I would not use "post-approval".

I think the difference between "postdoctoral" and "postapproval" is that one is a widely recognized word, and the other is something the OP invented (or possibly something that is used casually in some workplaces?). My brain has no idea what to even do with "postapproval", whereas postmodernism is something I learned about it school.
posted by Sara C. at 1:14 PM on May 31, 2011

Yeah I kind of figured that Chicago would say that (as I recall it says that the tendency should be to eliminate hyphens), but I don't think "postapproval" is what the editors of either Chicago or Reader's Digest had in mind, since (I assume) the OP is using "post-" in a casual setting like a office email to mean "after". (And if you're not, uh, don't. Use "following/pending/after approval" instead.) Why? I'm guessing it's business jargon, as in "We can hammer out the details post-approval/post-consult/post-whatever." Chicago probably wouldn't look highly upon this sort of language either, but I'm guessing it's how some people talk, and if you want to write that down, I'd avoid writing "postconsult."
posted by Busoni at 1:34 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I work in a graphic design studio. Correct spelling is important. I'm updating the account reports and wanted to be consistent with the invoice wording. The phrase 'author's changes postapproval' comes up a lot.
posted by unliteral at 5:05 PM on May 31, 2011

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