June 26, 2008

Weekly Language Usage Tips: non-habits?, all right and alright

Posted in all right and alright, anymore, non-habits? at 7:20 pm by dlseltzer

Tip 1: What’s a non-habit?

A reader writes: I wanted to put in a request for attention to another long-standing peeve: “Non-habit forming” drug commercials always bother me.

What is a non-habit?

Shouldn’t it be not habit forming?

DLS: To try and answer this, I googled “non-habit forming” and got about 70,000 hits. By the way, it is most commonly used with “sleeping aid” as in “Non-habit forming sleeping aid.” The spelling was pretty much evenly balanced with half of the uses spelled “non-habit forming” and half spelled “non habit forming.” I saw one instance of “non habit-forming” and one very strange instance of “nonhabitforming.” However, I found no instances which reflected my answer which is this: it seems to me that it would be alright if we changed the hyphenation and wrote “non-habit-forming” with hyphens linking all three words. “Not habit forming’ works but not as an adjective (e.g., “This sleeping aid is not habit forming” but not “this not habit forming pharmaceutical…”). I tried looking up “non habit” in dictionary.com and received this message: non habit not found. Did you mean nun’s habit? That, I enjoyed.

While I would go with “non-habit-forming,” I have no definitive answer for you. Anyone else want to chime in?

Tip 2: S’alright? S’alright.

You may have noticed my use of “alright” in Tip 1. When I was writing it, I thought “Maybe I should play it safe and use ‘all right,’” so I changed it, and then I started doing a little investigating. I was stunned by the brouhaha surrounding the use of “alright.” Style book after style book, grammar book after grammar book, website after website vilified the use of “alright” as wrong, grammatically incorrect, a willful break with convention, horrendous, lazy, illiterate, ignorant. Ignorant? Evidently, “altogether” and “already” are all right because they have been in existence since the middle ages while “alright” is unacceptable because it has only been in common use a couple of centuries. What nonsense! And, since I’ve always been more than willing to break with convention, I went back and changed “all right” back to “alright.” “Alright” is perfectly all right to use when meaning “okay,” but if you are referring to everything being correct, “all right” is the appropriate choice. Call me lazy, illiterate, and ignorant, but this is my story and I’m sticking to it.

Tip 3: Don’t do that anymore

In one of my email lists, I just received a message, including the following sentences:

“Anymore, I almost refuse to use any application without a scripting dictionary. Life’s too short to let a developer tell me how I’m going to use their application.”

Yes, my geekiness is well established. But as to starting a sentence with “anymore,” please don’t do that anymore.



  1. Candra said,

    really good blog. Ooops, sory if my spelling and grammar is not correct.
    I am not native english speaker.
    but this site very usefull for me.

  2. felicia said,

    That is so interesting about “altogether” and “already” being in the former position of “alright” in the English language. So maybe hundreds of years ago, some people were sticklers for “all together,” and vilified others who used “altogether.” Our language, like everything else, evolves.

  3. Brian said,

    How has your view on all right vs. alright changed since 2008? “Alright” still bothers me, and I thought you might want to add to this issue.

    • dlseltzer said,

      Not really. I am still alright with alright. I think that the meanings of alright and all right are distinct, and there is room for both. And as I wrote in 2008, already and altogether are well-accepted. I changed my mind about one thing though, I really don’t want to be called ignorant or illiterate! Thanks for reading.

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