“Healthcare” is one of those words that can bring you back to grade school days. Your pencil scratching against the paper, then pulling up to rub your head with the eraser and ask that eternal question of whoever is around…“is it one word or two??”
Except now, instead of asking the nearest adult about healthcare vs. health care, we tend to ask the internet. And sometimes, the internet disagrees with itself, and you end up asking yourself the very millennial question – “Who’s right? The online dictionary or AP Stylebook’s Twitter feed?”
You’re not the only one tackling this particular puzzle – “healthcare” ranks in the top 20 percent of searched words in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary.
We think that healthcare is one word. So who should you believe? And why is it so difficult in the first place?
Origins of “Health Care”
To unravel this mystery, we need to take a few steps back in time. When the term “health care” came into use around 1940, the entire medical industry was much simpler than it was today.
Each town had a local doctor (more, for a big city; less, for rural counties). When people had health issues, they went and received care from their doctor. Hence, “health care”. Two words, describing the actual practice of what was happening. Makes sense, right?
Ever-Evolving English Language
Two words did make sense. But then medicine marched forward. Penicillin was discovered, employer-sponsored health insurance became a thing, the polio vaccine was invented, hospital costs more than doubled, laws were made, and here you are today on a website dedicated solely to the healthcare industry with resources on things like how to find out when open enrollment is or how to buy health insurance.
Since English is a living language, evolving more with each spoken word and movement of society, it began to reflect the movement from the simple “health care” of the 1940s to the complex “healthcare” industry we have today. The one-word version first appeared in the 1980s and has steadily risen in popularity ever since, evolving naturally as the meaning of the word evolved.
As naturally as the language moved, the “official” rulers on such subjects are slow to catch up. As it stands, Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary and the AP Stylebook incorrectly list healthcare as two words while the Webster New World Collegiate and Dictionary.com have it at one.
Our style guide says otherwise – we’ll wait for you to catch up.
— HealthCare.com (@HealthCareInc) May 31, 2018
Some experts want to continue to use both, arguing for “healthcare” as a noun and “health care” as an adjective (or vice versa), or differentiate between “health care” as in services provided and “healthcare” as a system. Some even advocate for the hyphenated “health-care” in place of “health care” and never using “healthcare”.
Currently, in American English, there really is no standard. It’s like the wild west of grammar as differing experts on the subject debate on the usage of the term, either making firm rulings based on their beliefs, or choosing to stay out of it with a “either way is fine” approach. But what if we look globally? America is not the only prominent English speaking country in the world.
A Global View
Turns out, America and Canada are alone in clinging to the old two-word system. In British publications, “healthcare” outnumbers “health care” 3 to 1, in both noun and adjective form. Australia follows suit with similar numbers. The one-word “healthcare” is considered standard in these countries.
So who’s right? Those across the pond, or those in North America?
The Future of “Healthcare”
The one-word term “healthcare” came about for a reason. When someone says “healthcare” in conversation, or in writing, they are rarely discussing what has transpired between them and their doctor while they were sick. More than likely, they are discussing the healthcare industry, the healthcare debate, healthcare information… you get the idea.
So why keep using such an antiquated term? Why hold on to the past? it’s time to get with the times. There is no longer a common use for the two-word “health care”, so it is illogical to enforce it any longer.
And that’s why, at HealthCare.com, we say…“get the most out of your healthcare!” (one word).
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