I got an email message from one of my writers about our style guide, “Frontend vs front-end vs front end?” I love that because writers tend not to pay attention to style guides. And the truth is that while writers should have a decent knowledge of the style guide, it is really for the use of the editor. The better the writer knows the style guide, the less work there is for the editor. But this was a really good question. It wasn’t in the style guide, and I had to decide.
The problem with dealing with these variations of “front-end” is that the style guide already dictates “backend.” So the obvious answer is “frontend,” right? Well, no. It just didn’t feel right. Consistency is a great thing if you can get it. But it doesn’t trump readability. And when I see “frontend,” I do not see “front-end.” I see “fron-tend.” And I don’t want to make the reader have to figure out anything.
What’s more, I think that backend is a more common phrase. Now this would probably not be the case if I were editing for a automotive website. But I work for a website about websites. And we mostly talk about the “backend.” The front-end is more or less a given — the default. It’s what your audience sees and all you ultimately care about.
Of course, I could have gone with “front end.” But that’s a problem. It works. It’s clear. But it isn’t quite right. The front-end is a single thing. The two words go together. But I should note that around here, I often omit hyphens that I would include if I were being more careful. But who has the time to be careful around here? I don’t even have time to be careful when I’m working there. I could easily spend twice the time I do editing.
But this is one thing a style guide is for. Given that I’ve written this article, I will remember. But often, when editing, I will only remember that I have made a decision about “frontend” vs “front-end” vs “front end.” I won’t remember what it is. The style guide allows an editor to fret over such matters just once.
When I first got the message, I immediately thought, “Well, it’s ‘backend.'” That’s one I run into a lot so I have it memorized. And so I really wanted to use “frontend.” It’s just easier. You don’t have to remember anything. And that has always been my approach to grammar and style: make it simple. It seems most of the grammar articles I’ve written here make that point. I have banished blonde and annunciate. But alas, I have introduced another inconsistency into my style guide.
But it is necessary. I often say that style guides are arbitrary. And indeed they are! But they are not completely arbitrary. Their ultimate purpose is to make communicating with the reader as easy as possible. It’s useful to look back at texts from the Elizabethan era — before English spelling was standardized. It is really hard to read! You have to sound out each word. It’s madness!
So it must be “front-end” and “backend” — at least for now. I could, of course, go the other way: turn “backend” into “back-end.” It’s a thought. And the great thing is that in the electronic age, all it would take is one SQL query to fix all the previous style. But I won’t. Because I like a clean style. It is USA, not U.S.A. It is Dr Knowitall, not Dr. Knowitall. If a hyphen is unnecessary, it must go, even if it makes my work (and that of my writers) slightly harder.
I know! I can hear Mozart’s Concerto No 3 playing on the world’s smallest violin.