The Word on the Street Is . . . Back to School

Word on the StreetIt’s that time of year again when you put the flip-flops back in the basement, pull out the rake, and buy the kids some new crayons. It’s also that time of year when advertising goes back‑to‑school crazy.

Back in the day (don’t ask me which day), “back to school” was an adverb phrase that answered the question “where did the kids go?” Then it climbed the linguistic ladder and became an adjective (hyphens included), typically used in slogans like “back-to-school sale” to advertise a sale on pencils and erasers and skinny jeans.

Recently, it has metamorphosed once again, this time into a noun, where a slogan like “back‑to‑school time” has become “It’s time for back to school.” Even the AP Stylebook is hopping on the bandwagon with the title of its back-to-school blog post, “Fifteen AP Style Rules for Back to School”. Personally, I don’t mind it as a noun. After all, the French call back to school “la rentrée,” (a noun that literally means to “re-enter”).

But one thing is still unclear, should “back to school” take hyphens as a noun?


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