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Wondering what to do Sunday at 2 a.m.? Go lower case, singular and unhyphenated

October 29, 2015 By Mark Allen Resources

The end of daylight saving time brings back the standard point-counterpoint over that middle word: Is it singular or plural?

Daylight saving time is the preferred rendering, but in casual use, it’s just as often plural.

The form “daylight savings time,” exists for no particular reason except for our predilection to pluralize “saving.” There is little harm in the variant form, and most good dictionaries record “savings” as an alternative.

“Savings” as a noun that describes what you have put away in the bank is plural. But “a saving of 20 percent” sounds odd. It is one of those constructions that authorities call proper despite the overwhelming tide of actual usage.

“The phrase ‘a savings’ occurs so frequently in modern usage that to label it an error would be futile,” concedes Bryan A. Garner in Garner’s Modern American Usage.

Style guides still call for “daylight saving time.” But the “savings” variant is everywhere, even in edited prose. A search of the Google Books’ American English corpus and English Fiction corpus shows the plural form was rare until the 1970s but is now almost as common as the singular form.

The term “daylight saving” in connection with changing the clocks was introduced in the British Parliament in 1908 with the Daylight Saving Bill. The idea was mocked, seriously considered, then abandoned.

Clocks were first changed in Germany for World War I, and that change was quickly adopted elsewhere. It was mostly abandoned after the war, then readopted for World War II. It wasn’t standardized in the United States until 1966, and we’ve fiddled with it since then.

It’s now daylight saving time for a longer period of the year than standard time, muddying the term “standard.” Copy editors may spot “EST” during the summer months, but that’s only valid from the first Sunday in November to the second Sunday in March — a period as short as 18 weeks.

Despite including a compound modifier, the term was not originally hyphenated. The American Heritage Dictionary includes the hyphen, and Garner endorses it. But most dictionaries and style guides do not include a hyphen.

It’s also often capitalized, in the style of “Greenwich Mean Time” and “Eastern Standard Time,” but there is no need to capitalize the concept. Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary online capitalizes “Daylight Saving Time,” but the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary does not.

If “daylight” is attached to a specific time zone, style guides offer differing advice:

For an unabridged version of this blog entry go to  http://markallenediting.com/2015/10/30/in-standard-usage-daylight-saving-time-wins-out/

Mark Allen, a member of the ACES executive board, is a freelance copy editor in Columbus, Ohio. He blogs at markalleneditorial.com, and you can follow him on Twitter at @EditorMark.

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