Airport Signs Point to Change

While traveling recently through RDU Airport’s new Terminal 2 (that’s the one with the “C” gates—go figure), I noticed that the usual terms “Baggage Claim” and “Ground Transportation” were supplanted by “Bag Claim” and “Ground Transport.”  I can only imagine the tens of dollars the airport must have saved by eliminating nine letters from each of those signs; but is this good usage?

The style guides I consulted—Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Garner’s Modern American Usage, The Chicago Manual of Style, and The AP Stylebookhad nothing to say regarding the use of bag vs. baggage or transport vs. transportation. So I turned to the most modest of all reference books, the dictionary, for guidance. Both bag and baggage are defined as “luggage,” and both transport and transportation are defined as “a system for conveying people or goods.” It appears that in this sense, the word pairs can function as synonyms.

But another question remains: is there a reason to prefer baggage when it’s used as a modifier? Neither bag nor baggage is defined as an adjective, so grammatically, there’s no reason to use baggage claim rather than bag claim. That’s just what we’re accustomed to. The English language is constantly evolving, and Americans in particular prefer simplicity. So bag claim and ground transport it is, at least here in Raleigh-Durham. We’ll see if other airports go along.

“Open Mike” or “Open Mic”?

Yesterday’s STC Carolina Chapter event got me wondering: Is it open mike or open mic? I’ve seen it spelled both ways. So I checked my dictionary, which lists mike as the preferred spelling, and mic as a variant. Other dictionaries I consulted didn’t include mic at all. Still unsatisfied, I checked Bryan A. Garner’s Dictionary of Modern American Usage (1998 edition).  Garner argues, “Whereas mike more immediately suggests the pronunciation, mic more immediately suggests the longer form. All in all, mic might be considered preferable.”

When faced with a situation where dictionaries and style guides disagree, I’m inclined to follow the style guide. After all, dictionaries are tasked with documenting what usage is, and style guides with what usage ought to be. So the next question I ask is, which spelling is more readable? Unfortunately, in this case, I find both spellings jarring, especially when divorced from the word open:

Turn up the mike’s volume.
Step back from the mic to avoid feedback.

Given that both spellings are informal anyway, perhaps the best approach generally is to spell out microphone except in dialogue and quotations, and reserve the short form for spoken language. But open microphone just won’t do. Spelling out the full word in a common colloquialism sounds pedantic.

So the next question is, who’s the audience? Most audiences won’t care, and if they question your spelling, they’ll consult a dictionary. So use mike. But an audience of writers may care, and like Bryan Garner, they may be unimpressed by the dictionary’s capitulation to sound over sense. It comes down to personal preference. You’re probably safe either way, as long as you’re consistent. Keep in mind, though, that the masses will win out eventually. When it comes to spelling, they always do.