You see them everyday, whenever you login to a Web site or rollover an ad: what should be open compounds suffering from the compositional equivalent of a roadway rear-ender. The error of writing “everyday” (an adjective meaning “ordinary”) when you mean “every day” (synonymous with “each day”) has already been covered in another post, but this mistake is common with verbs, too.
When you go to a Web site and type your username and password, you are logging in, so you should style the verb “log in” — similar to the verb phrase “check in.” By the same token, when you glide your cursor over an online ad to activate it, you’re rolling over it, so the phrase is written “roll over.” (Think about it: When you stumble to avoid a feline on a beeline, you don’t fallover.)
Oooh! Oooh! Oooh! Yes, I see you there in the front row, wildly waving your upraised hand. I know what you’re going to say: “But we see them like that all the time!” That’s why I call them viral car-wreck compounds: Back when the Internet was young, someone unfamiliar with the niceties of verb phrases, someone perhaps more at ease with programming languages than the magnificent mess we call English, once developed a Web site that directed visitors to “login.” More recently, when the first interactive ad was enabled, a programmer incorrectly typed the command “rollover.”
But wait – does this mean that “login” and “rollover” aren’t real words? Sure they are — they’re nouns. Your username and password comprise your login, and your cursor’s ad-surfing motion is a rollover. They’re equivalent in structure to the two other closed compounds I used in the sentence preceding this one.
Then, others saw the train-wreck treatments but reiterated them, mistaking the labels “login” and “rollover” for the directives “log in” and “roll over” without recognizing the mistake, and the clunky compounds were unwittingly compounded. (That’s the very definition of a virus — a self-replicating error.)
But that magnificent mess we call English changes its rules all the time, you persist. Yes, it does. But don’t capitulate before it’s time. That’s why we have manuals of best practices like “Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary” and “The Chicago Manual of Style.” (The former — cue gritting teeth — defends the validity of “alright,” for example, but has resisted conceding to “alot.”) For the sake of professional pride, we must agree to codified consistency until the walls are breached. For my part, you’ll have to roll over my dead body (after, of course, you log in).