Thorn: Baseball as one word or two

From SABR member John Thorn at Our Game on April 21, 2014, with mention of SABR member Bruce Allardice:

On August 16, 2012, I ran a column called “Baseball or Base Ball?” ( For those who recall the story or prefer not to follow the link, here are some highlights of that anonymous scribble in the Trenton Evening Times of November 13, 1915.

A small but influential minority con­tinue to adhere to the old notion that baseball isn’t baseball at all, but base ball. That is, that it is not one word, but two…. In the early days of the game “base ball” was universal. After a time, as the game increased in popu­larity, many publications adopted the hyphenated form, and it became “base-ball.” At a still later period along in the ’80s, as nearly as can be discovered—the newspapers began to drop the hyphen, and “base­ball” came into use.

With the aid of modern online databases and applications, plus some good old-fashioned ingenuity, we can bring data to the question of “Baseball or Base Ball?” My estimable friend Bruce Allardice searched the extensive newspaper set at for each word in each yera from 1859 to 1900, and then 1905 and 1910 as a confirmation of the trend by which baseball superseded “base ball” forevermore.  Bruce writes:

The general trends are clear. The exact numbers for any year depend on the vagaries of the OCR reads, and the OCR handling of the hyphenated (due to a line break) “base-ball.”

What strikes me is that the two-word “base ball” usage lasted far longer than previous scholars have thought. 1896-97 marks the time when baseball came to be used more often than base ball.

The chart below also illustrates the rise of newspaper reporting of the game. Note that the GenBank search process generally counts the hyphenated form, “base-ball,” as two words (i.e., as “base ball”).

Read the full article here:

Originally published: April 21, 2014. Last Updated: April 21, 2014.