“Size” Matters

By Mark Nichol

How do you treat the word size (or is it sized?) when it’s used in combination with other words as an adjective? Here’s a rundown of the options, with judgments about the best bets.

The combination of mid with size is treated in various combinations: as midsize, mid-size, midsized, and mid-sized. The most prevalent form, logically — following the tendency to omit hyphens after prefixes and because omitting the second d is simpler than retaining it — is midsize. Medium-sized, however, prevails over medium-size; the hyphen is to be expected, because medium is an entire word, not just a prefix, like mid, but the retention of the final d is puzzling.

Midsize is the adjective of choice for vehicles, while medium-sized is much more likely to apply not only to entities such as businesses and organizations but also to most other products and objects.

And how should references to comparatively small or large phenomena be styled? Some people would follow the pattern by writing small-size or small-sized, or large-size or large-sized, but -size or -sized is redundant because small and large provide a frame of reference to the quality being discussed, whereas medium is vague enough to require the contextual clue of -sized, even when small and/or large are also employed in the passage. (A range should be rendered as follows: “Small to midsize cars were tested” or “The survey applied to small to medium-sized businesses.”)

Words for bed sizes are expressed as, for example, king-size or king-sized. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, probably the most widely consulted dictionary in the publishing industry, notes that king-size is prevalent, which is consistent with its entries for similarly constructed words, include bite-size, legal-size, life-size, man-size, plus-size, pocket-size, in which the -sized form is regarded as a variant.

Similar terms, such as those in the sentences as “We watched a car-size boulder tumbling down the slope” or “A house-size depression appeared in the field,” can be created as needed. However, writers should take care in producing such constructions with less common references. “He approached the brick-size object as it hovered in front of him” is reasonable, because although bricks vary in size, most readers will probably think of the typical red clay building material. But “a dog-size creature” is vague because of the disparity of size among dog breeds, and “a cell phone–size device” may seem awkwardly constructed. (Try “a device the size of a cell phone” instead.)

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5 Responses to ““Size” Matters”

  • Matt Gaffney

    I believe that our discussing this topic is futile. After all, it comes down to descriptive use, not prescriptive use: notice that the author did not mention the participial source of “size” or “sized.” For my money, descriptive use rarely goes beyond the realm of “interesting, but not definitive,” i.e., it doesn’t translate into prescriptive use. Otherwise, we’d all begin or end sentences with “dude.”

    If we step back from the discussion of which form users prefer in certain contexts and of which form is appropriate and accurate, we should realize that we’re dealing with the use of participles, present and past, i.e., “size” is present and “sized” is past.

    If we agree that we’re dealing with participles, then I think a preference for “size” or “sized” in any context is only a distinction in language and implies a difference that is so subtle, so nuanced, so trivial, that it’s simply not worth noting.

    For example, a “mid-size” car is a car that is midway between a large car and a small car; an appealing feature to many prospective car buyers.

    At the same time, a “mid-sized” car means the same thing, but the description could also embrace the thinking and the activity that brought the car into being, i.e., the designer, the financier, the manufacturer, the marketer, indeed, all those responsible for putting the car on the market were of a mind to create a car midway between a large car and a small car. All those people deliberately “sized” the car to be midway between a large car and a small car: they “mid-sized” it.

    I don’t think anyone gives a damn about the possible implied difference of meaning between “mid-size” and “mid-sized.” Our concerns are understandably much more mundane: is it roomy enough for the Cub Scout den? Is it fuel efficient? Is it reliable? Is it safe? Is it value for money? Is it durable?

    Giving weight to descriptive use as something greater than a quantitative curiosity is the siren song that endangers our thinking about all aspects of language and English is too beautiful to fall victim to the masses.

  • Dale A. Wood

    “Midsize is the adjective of choice for vehicles”.
    Regardless of what Matt Gaffney has to say, the reason for the use of “midsize” is sheer jargon of the automobile buying and selling business. (The word should be “midsized”.) The automobile business is full of such jargon words, including the despicable ones that I won’t quote that simply mean “used”.

    Also, the prefix “mid” should never be used with a hyphen except before proper nouns and adjectives. For example, mid-Montana, mid-October, mid-Siberia, mid-Pacific, mid-Atlantic, mid-Sahara, mid-South, mid-Texan…
    “George was such a confabulation of mid-Texan accent, habits, and appearance that everyone just called him ‘Tex’.”
    I also believe that some noted writers have made these into common adjectives: midatlantic and midpacific, hence getting rid of more ruddy hyphens.

    As for common adjectives and nouns with “mid”, some examples are {midair, midautumn, midcourse, midday, midfall, midfield, midlands, midlatitudes, midlife, midmonth, midnight, midocean, midpoint, midship, midstream, midsummer**, midspring, midterm, midtown, midway, midweek, Midwest, Midwestern, midwinter, midyear} none of which use a hyphen.

    **This word was used by Shakespeare, of course.
    Midair refueling is much more pleasant that a midair collison.
    Most of the United States, Japan, most of China, and the Mediterranean region of Europe are all located in the midlatitudes.
    Most of Canada, and all of Alaska, Siberia, Manchuria, Mongolia, Belarus, Scandinavia, Iceland, and Greenland are too far north.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Yes, I think that a distinction needs to be made between what are mere jargon words {midsize, kingsize, plus-size, pocketsize} – which probably come and go – and those that are enduring words in REAL English: {large-sized, small-sized, medium-sided, midsummer, midwinter, midday, midweek, midstream, midyear, midocean, midcontinent, midatlantic, midpacific}

    It is estimated that the Atlantic and Pacific oceans will endure for billions and billions of years (even if their names are changed).

    On the other hand, if humanity endures, we will probably come to the point where we don’t need beds, cars, and pockets anymore. No beds? Just wait until someone invents a way to float in the air while sleeping.

    “Plus-sized”? Despicable marketing jargon that should be gone before too long. Give it until 2040.

  • DHH

    Personally, I prefer to describe myself as zaftig, instead of plus-sized. And I especially like opulent: lavish to the point of excess.

    Recently I tried to buy a carbonated beverage at a “fast-food” restaurant. I wanted a small (sized!) drink, but they only served medium, large, and super-sized. So I asked for a cup of water instead, and they gave me a small cup, and pointed me in the direction of the self-serve beverage machine, where I got water, instead of fizzy water like I wanted. Sigh.

  • thebluebird11

    @DHH: How about “Rubenesque” instead of zaftig LOL (maybe it should be Rubensesque?!)
    @DAW: In the context of my medical work, I use hyphens a lot, often unrelated to proper nouns or adjectives. For example, a lesion may be located in the mid-esophagus or the mid-LAD [left anterior descending coronary artery]. It would look stupid and confusing to put midesophagus or midLAD. There are other “mid”s, such as mid-epigastric, mid-cycle, mid-shaft, and so on, and we hyphenate them all. Yes, I’m a hyphen-hugger.

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