Is “Bedbugs” one word or two?

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According to Google’s ngram viewer, a measure of word frequency in scanned books, “bedbugs” as a single word is used far more frequently:

ngram

Yet Google trends, which measures search terms, reports the converse:

trends

So authors are writing about bedbugs, but the general populace is searching for bed bugs.

Which is correct?

The convention among American entomologists is to treat common names where the insect category (“bug”) is correct as separate words, but to combine names into single words when the insect category is incorrect. Example: the house fly is really a fly, but a firefly is really a beetle. Since bed bugs belong to Hemiptera- the true bugs- then in our country, at least, the appropriate spelling is bed bug as two words.

Score one for the internet.

 

12 thoughts on “Is “Bedbugs” one word or two?”

  1. Hahaha! This is fantastic! What is really curious to me, however, are the long-term peaks. They both peak at the onset of the World Wars! Why on Earth would this be? Does the populous become more concerned with ALL enemies during times of tension? That is the best guess I could come up with?

  2. I checked the Web; indeed, general usage seems to follow the rule of American entomologists, for example:
    Correct taxon: rhinoceros beetle, honey bee, Argentine ant, spider mite
    Incorrect taxon: antlion, dragonflies, damselflies, Firefox (the Web-browser)

    But I also found exceptions:
    Spanish fly (meloid beetle)
    bumblebee (a true bee, but less frequently spelled bumble bee, for example at Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bumblebee)

    Navy Seals should actually be navyseals, and Detroit Tigers should be detroittigers?
    Or does the rule only apply to arthropods?

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  4. I have an alternative hypothesis. Bedbugs has priority as the specific common name for Cimex lectularius. I seem to remember finding it in the OED, but not having it with me in my backpack (I’m at Guyatt Parkon the Brisbane River in St Lucia listening to Butcherbirds and wondering what that Polyrachis-like ant may be), you’ll just have to take my unreliable word for it. Then along came the imperialist US Ent Soc demanding order in common names.

    Therefore, the more erudite, e.g. those who can write books, tend to use the correct name. Google Trends is just a chimera of loose usage and slavish ESA followers.

  5. My understanding is that people awareness of bed bugs grew during the wars as they became more prevalent due to the sheer amount of people being shipped around the world, after the wars the migrants and displace returned to their homes and a period of less travel ensued. Also the fact that DDT was being used up until the early 70’s perhaps people after the wars were not so concerned.

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