Water Ski, Water-ski, or Waterski?

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A reader wants to know how to write the word that describes the sport of propelling oneself over water on long narrow pieces of wood:

Should it be water-ski, water ski, or waterski?”

Naturally, I went directly to the OED, where I found the following spellings:

waterski (noun)
waterski (verb)
waterskiing (noun)
water-skier (noun)

Second stop, Merriam-Webster, which offers only:

water ski (noun)
water-ski (verb)

From the dictionaries, I proceeded to the Web to see how articles and blogs concerned with water sports spell the words.

The Wikipedia article “List of water sports” has waterskiing.

The Wikipedia article “Waterskiing” shows the title as one word, but begins, “Water skiing is a surface sport.” In the list of contents, waterskiing is again spelled as one word.

Organizations devoted to waterskiing vary in their spelling of the sport:

USA Water Ski (national governing body of organized water skiing in the United States)

International Waterski & Wakeboard Federation (world governing body)

Water Skiers with Disabilities Association

Waterski & Wakeboard Australia

Western Australian Water Ski Association

Chico Water Ski Team (California State University)

The website for Dick’s Sporting Goods offers waterskis, water skis, and a “waterski rope package.”

Amazon carries “waterskiing equipment.”

The online magazine Waterski shows the following usage:

Water-Ski Ninja Workout

My European Water-Ski Adventure

Water Ski Trivia

How Orlando Became the Mecca of Water Skiing

It’s one of the most iconic shots in the history of water skiing.

Thousands of water-skiers trek annually to Orlando.

Please drink and water-ski responsibly.

Journalists writing about the sport will have to choose their dictionaries or go with editorial guidelines and/or the preferred spelling of official organizations. My preference would be to spell all the forms as one word.

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2 thoughts on “Water Ski, Water-ski, or Waterski?”

  1. Ah, the perfect situation to promote a grammatical rule I champion: laissez faire, which is defined as “a policy or attitude of letting things take their own course, without interfering.”

    In other words, where a rule of grammar or spelling is debated, not only can people agree to disagree, but a writer need not bother to be consistent with himself. On page 37 he can write “water ski” and on page 39 enter “water-ski.” Imaging the freedom from not have to niggle the small stuff (Tolkien’s term).

    Yes, being willfully inconsistent about spelling does seem a bit much. But imagine how marvelous it would be if writers could forget being consist from page to page or even sentence to sentence whether they use or don’t use those pesky Oxford commas:

    And yes, there are times when Oxford commas and similar rules are necessary for clarity. But on every other occasion, why not forget the rule and let your fingers do the deciding with no conscious input. If they add that last comma, fine. If they don’t no big deal.

    If consistency is the “hobgoblin of little minds,” then this principle is for the large minded.

  2. I think the inconsistency displayed by both OED and MW is both inexplicable and inexcusable. Regardless of form– hyphenated or not, one or two words– there is no reason at all for “water ski (noun) but
    water-ski (verb)” or, worse, waterskiing but water-skier. The editors of both should be embarrassed not only for offering no coherent guidance but for not even making an effort at not being ridiculous.

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