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"Non-fiction" vs. "nonfiction," and whether it matters....

Non-Fiction Readers

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1DanDanRevolution First Message
Aug 6, 2006, 4:29am Top

So the question is which spelling you prefer, and whether it makes much difference. I'm a fan of "nonfiction," it seems to me it's earned the conjoined rite of passage to legitimacy.

Aug 7, 2006, 10:58am Top

I actually tend to use "nonfiction," as well. I don't remember why I titled the group "non-fiction." I think both spellings probably have their place, but I do wonder which one (if either) is correct. Does anyone know? I've certainly seen it used both ways!

Aug 7, 2006, 3:50pm Top

Who says one's correct and the other is not? If you want to know what the editor of a dictionary says, look it up. If you want to know what the world at large says...

Google results:
nonfiction - 77,000,000 results
non-fiction - 62,400,000 results

I'm sure both have been considered correct by different "authorities" at different times and in different places over the years. They are almost neck-and-neck on the internet, but the non-hyphenated version seems to be establishing primacy.

Language is what people use, so use it how you like. If you work for a newspaper, well, that's a different story. Use whatever authority they tell you to tuse. Me, I prefer "non-fiction".

Aug 7, 2006, 6:22pm Top

It may be the Pond effect. Checking a couple of on-line dictionaries, the American (Merriam-Webster) has only nonfiction, whereas the British dictionary (Chambers') has only non-fiction.

I find non-fiction more natural, and I'm a Brit ... which is why I wrote "on-line" above: the dictionaries make the same distinction, with online being the MW offering, on-line the Chambers'. I wonder if, generally speaking, Americans are more ready to dump the hyphen.

Edited: Aug 11, 2006, 9:52am Top

It may be the Pond effect. Checking a couple of on-line dictionaries, the American (Merriam-Webster) has only nonfiction, whereas the British dictionary (Chambers') has only non-fiction.

That clinches it. It'll be nonfiction from now on...as I'm west of the Pond. :-)

I wonder if, generally speaking, Americans are more ready to dump the hyphen.

Sure! I'll dump it! :-)

Aug 31, 2006, 6:26pm Top

Any is fine, really. Mere orthography.

Sep 5, 2006, 8:18am Top

with a hyphen. that's what I use in my tags, anyway.


Sep 7, 2006, 12:30pm Top

I prefer the hyphenated form. Non-hyphenation is a trend out of the advertising industry and has an Orwellian flavor to it. Think of "non-fat" vs. "nonfat" on food products...

Having said that, I generally don't use the term non-fiction. It divides the book world into "fiction" and "everything else," and this is strange to me considering the "everything else" comprises a much larger portion of the book universe.

*steps off soap box* :)

Sep 7, 2006, 5:30pm Top

I use non-fiction, despite being American, and that precisely because it's such a small portion of my own library. This also sticks me with an awkward tag (literature and fiction) for the the many 'other things' - including poetry, essays, etc - which are not necessarily fiction, but certainly 'something else'; and yet saves me the bother of constant value judgements (is this book literature, or is it mere fiction? ;) ).

One of these days, I may give up tagging either at all, but I had an ill-begotten desire to KNOW the relative content, and have so far trailed along in its wake...

Nov 3, 2006, 7:15pm Top

So I looked this up in Garner's Dictionary of Modern American Usage, and he says that reasonable minds will differ on the question (meaning it doesn't really matter).

He says:

Generally, American English is much less hospitable to hyphens than British English. Words with prefixes are generally made solid: *displeasure* (not *dis-pleasure*) .... This no-hyphen style seems aesthetically superior, but reasonable people will differ on such a question.

Nov 23, 2006, 5:54am Top

I tendto follow The Guardian Style guide on this which says avoid hyphens whenever possible. saying that this is form into which words generally evolve. Of course their software is notorious the liberties it takes in pursuit of an even line length.

Nov 25, 2006, 2:33am Top

I use the hyphen in my tags, and I'm living in the States for reference.

Nov 25, 2006, 10:27am Top

Huh. My tag is hyphenated. No idea why I wrote it that way, just habit. It seems the proper way to express an anti-characteristic; like counter-clockwise. I don't think anyone would write counterclockwise and so it seems improper to me to write nonfiction. I'll have to grab my trusty Warriner's to see if it can tell me anything definitive.

Nov 27, 2006, 9:36am Top

Actually, it seems a lot of people write 'counterclockwise'.



to name a few.

Nov 27, 2006, 9:49am Top

But why would anyone write 'counterclockwise' or 'counter-clockwise' when they could write 'widdershins'...?

Nov 27, 2006, 9:55am Top



17munklinde First Message
Jan 9, 2007, 12:41pm Top

Or 'reindeer-wise' -- reindeer circle widdershins as they gather in the evening, ya know...

18bookville First Message
Feb 18, 2007, 10:34pm Top

Nonfiction vs. non-fiction?
Nonfiction makes more sense:
The purpose of language is to communicate. Nothing is lost in the message by eliminating the hyphen. Nonfiction uses less space, takes less time to type, and, probably most significantly,
avoids the risk of straining the right pinkie trying
to reach for that far away hyphen.

19dereader First Message
Mar 2, 2007, 10:30pm Top

I'm (or is it Im?) with bookville. Plus its nice to know how reindeer circle:)

Mar 7, 2007, 10:00am Top

I've used non-fiction in my tags and I'm not sure why, since I hate having to pause the extra fraction of a second to look for the dang dash - on my keyboard. Numbers and symbols have never come easily to me when typing, even though I'm keyboarding all the time.

nonfiction hmm, much easier to write. Think of all the time I could save! Why, I could probably read an extra book every ten years with the extra time I'd save not using the -

Edited: Mar 7, 2007, 2:02pm Top

More like every hundred years ;)

I seem to like the look of 'non-fiction' better... I don't know why.

Mar 9, 2007, 5:02pm Top

oops, i just used "non fiction"

Edited: Mar 21, 2007, 1:03am Top

For years I bounced back and forth without thinking about it. But soon after starting a nonfiction blog last fall I decided to settle on the simple form. The hyphen makes it seem like an unstable construction. I think "nonfiction" looks more like a finished word.

Jul 2, 2007, 10:33am Top

Strictly from an LT use perspective: with the advanced search tools for searching one's own library, the hyphen caused me some trouble. I don't remember what it was, exactly, but I know that it made me switch to 'nonfiction' word even though I prefer 'non-fiction'.

Jul 10, 2007, 4:08am Top

I prefer "non-fiction." I'm not entirely sure why, but I suppose I can say that I like the emphasis it gives. It seems to declare it is not fiction.

Okay, that's not a great reason, but I still prefer the hyphenated form.

Jul 10, 2007, 5:44am Top

I tend to go by stress patterns. If I could imagine saying "nonfiction" with only one stressed syllable I'd write it without a hyphen. As it is, I stress both "non" and "FICtion" so I prefer the hyphenated form in general use.

But I think more important than the "which is correct?" debate is the general problem of how to deal with unstable and idiosyncratic folksonomies. I certainly don't like the idea of some distant "authority" giving me a short list of permitted terms to use, but half of us using the hyphenated form and half of us the non-hyphenated in our tags make searching and browsing more difficult. My ideal and unrealistic scenario is that we would have had this debate in the very early days of LibraryThing and settled on a standard.

Jul 26, 2007, 5:41am Top

i agree with #10. "set-theoretic paradox" could be alternately stated as paradoxes from the theory of sets. but non is simply modifying fiction, and there's no loss of meaning or elegance by eliminating the hyphen.

Aug 1, 2007, 10:21am Top

i had my books tagged as fiction and non fiction, but I have now removed those tags - they just made my tag cloud weird with those 2 giant words and they are not all that helpful

Instead I have about a half dozen non fction categories (textbooks, popularisation etc.) and more topical categories

Aug 3, 2007, 9:00am Top

--> 28

i had my books tagged as fiction and non fiction, but I have now removed those tags - they just made my tag cloud weird with those 2 giant words and they are not all that helpful

I kind of agree with you. Other tags are a lot more colorful, specific, and fun.

Aug 3, 2007, 9:25am Top

It's true that "fiction" and "non-fiction" are pretty broad, but I have a goal to read at least 1/3 non-fiction every year, so I like to keep them.

May 15, 2008, 12:50am Top

I've been meaning to read this thread ever since I came upon the group; now that it has been marked dormant, I feel a duty to respond.

I am usually a prig about these things and would defer to Noah Webster or the folks over at The American Heritage Dictionary. In this case, it doesn't matter to me.


Sep 3, 2008, 12:04am Top

I'm a school librarian. As a librarian, I use nonfiction and that's how I teach the kids to write it. Personally, I could give a rat's patooty, as long as they're reading!!! :)

Oct 20, 2008, 7:37pm Top

OK, I "get" that standardized spelling is a boon to rapid reading and may improve clarity, but one of the nice things about standards is that there are so many of them. Scout's honour (honor?)

So what's the objection to standardizing on non-fiction or nonfiction, either way, no prejudice? (As opposed to
nonfixion or non-fikshun, or whatever? )

If one is to be preferred over the other, what criteria would we want to use to decide which one is "better" ?

Group: Non-Fiction Readers

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