In the previous post, I discussed Britishisms in the American novel The Plot, and several British commentators zoomed in on the line “she straightaway found a job.” It was contended out that the actual British term is “straight away” (two words).
Backing up a bit, I see that in the early days of the blog, I did a post on “straightaway” and a separate one on “straight away” — things were a little bit chaotic back then. But I didn’t sort out the one word/two words issue, and I will try to do so now.
But first I’ll point out that the American equivalent is “right away” (always two words) or “immediately.” Here’s an Ngram Viewer chart showing frequency in American books:
Muddying the waters a little bit is the fact that one-word “straightaway” has another meaning, labeled “chiefly U.S.” by the OED: “A straight course in rowing or sailing. Also, a straight section of a road or racecourse, etc.” With that in mind, we can say that the two-word version for “immediately” is more common even in the U.S.
So now let’s compare the two-word version in Britain and the U.S.:
That is to say, it’s definitely a NOOB.
Finally, were my commentators correct in saying the two-word version prevails in Britain? The OED would indicate not. Here’s its entry:
The citations show a classic progression from two words, to hyphenated, to one word.
However, Ngram Viewer supports the commenters. Here’s the chart for the two versions’ frequency in British English. It shows that in 2019, the “straight away” was used about four times more frequently than “straightaway.”
Not to state the obvious, but the one word/two word distinction applies to written language, rather than spoken, where the question is moot. I imagine that to some extent the commenters were expressing their sense that there is a pause between “straight” and “away” when they say or hear the term.
Finally, one commenter, Tony C, said: “The word order is wrong in British English as well: ‘… she found a job straight away …'”
I have a hunch that he’s wrong, that both sentence structures are found in British English (see the Daily Mail quote from the OED), and in fact that this can elucidate the one word/two word issue. That is, before the verb, “straightaway” is one word, and after (as in Tony C’s rendition), it’s two.
But full investigation of this point will have to wait for another day.