An advertisement for “Noise Cancelling” headphones prompts this post about how easily the vagaries of spelling and punctuation complicate the simple act of describing something in writing.
Which of the following descriptions is correctly spelled and styled?
a. noise canceling headphones
b. noise-canceling headphones
c. noise cancelling headphones
d. noise-cancelling headphones
An online search will return all these options, but careful writers (of American English) will opt for b, “noise-canceling headphones.” The first option suggests that one is referring to canceling headphones of a noise nature, rather than headphones of the noise-canceling variety, and the third does the same for British English readers, for whom cancelling (and cancelled) is standard spelling. The last choice is correct for British English.
How does one determine from an online search that choice b is correct? Well, for starters, don’t rely on an online search, unless one is consulting a reputable digital dictionary such as Merriam-Webster’s. Though both canceling and cancelling are offered as options on that site’s entry for cancel, note that although the same is true of canceled and cancelled, all the examples for the past-tense form of the verb use the first spelling, and extrapolate from there. (However, note, too, that the noun form is cancellation, not cancelation.)
Why, then, is the phrase spelled cancelling in the ad?
a. Neither the writer nor anyone else involved in editorial production of the ad knows how to spell the word.
b. The word was inadvertently misspelled, and no one involved in editorial production of the ad noticed the error.
c. Despite the prevalent spelling in American English, the company that sells the product chooses to spell the word cancelling, either in generic usage or as part of the actual product name, or both.
d. The company that sells the product is based in a country that uses British English spelling.
In this case, the pertinent answer is d, but that doesn’t change the fact that content in the company’s advertising for the US market should reflect American English preferences.
As for the hyphen, advertisers often omit the punctuation mark, either out of ignorance or in a deliberate effort to avoid what is seen as a cluttering nonessential element. However, hyphenation of the phrasal adjective “noise canceling”/“noise cancelling” before a noun is advised in either variation of the language.