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Pompom vs. pompon (vs. pom-pom etc.)

The term for a decorative tuft of material such as wool or ribbon was originally pompon, which came to English from French in the 19th century, but the misheard form pompom has gradually gained ground. Today, the two are used about equally in English. Two-word spellings such as pom pom and pom pon have never been standard, though they appear in informal contexts, and hyphenated forms such as pom-pom are likewise nonstandard. There’s no reason for the word to have a hyphen.

Examples

Although there’s no logical basis for the hyphenated pom-pom, it appears with surprising frequency—for example:

She said the Steelerettes would perform acrobatics, shake their pom-poms to pop songs of the day and lead cheers. [Toronto Star]

Few Brit-pop bands could soundtrack an NFL apparel ad, but this Brighton, England crew’s pom-pom waving spirit fit one fine. [Rolling Stone]

Other writers correctly refrain from using the hyphen—for example:

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He’s a shy kid in a wheelchair; she’s a cheerleader with an IQ lower than a pompom. [Boston Herald]

Laremont students will be joined by the basketball team, pep band, cheerleaders, pompom squad and drill team for the 10 a.m. event. [Chicago Sun-Times]

A minority of publications keep the French spelling, which is etymologically correct but fading from English:

There are double coneflowers, pompon-blooming coneflowers, coneflowers with twisted petals, quilled petals, dwarf bloomers and extra large, giant varieties. [Appleton Post Crescent]

Esprit will also perform at Epcot and the Disney Studios in an exciting two-hour show featuring Esprit and 9 other pompon squads from Wisconsin and Michigan. [Wauwatosa Now]

Ngram

This ngram graphs the use of pompom and pompon in English-language books published from 1800 to 2008. The current trend favors pompom.

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Comments

  1. Marylonn says:

    I HATE the word chairperson!  Can’t we use the simple chair, or chairman, since a chairman is the head of a committee or group, and has no gender.  Women’s lib has gone too far.

    • thanks for sharing. though i think you posted that to the wrong word.

    • And you know what I hate more? Misogynistic asswipes like “Marylonn” who want to keep women’s rights back in the 1800’s.

      • Wow, Bob Bryla. You call someone an “asswipe” and a woman hater, accusing them of wanting to keep women’s rights back in the 1800’s, based on their preference that we not scramble to re-writing the English language in a gender neutral manner? You’re an awesome representation of the mindset, the morality, and the general civility of your those who hold your position. Good job. Please keep it up, and please post more!

    • Goin Strongq says:

      It is most appropriate to use the term “chair,” for it is truly a gender-neutral term.

      Similar to Police Officer v. policeman or Policewoman.

      Time to enter the 21st century.

  2. BeeBeeRichard says:

    Bobby is correct, woman hater.

  3. Goin Strongq says:

    Pom Pon became adulterated by those who are 1) functionally illiterate, 2) do not pay attention to detail, or 3) combination #1&2.

    This follows suit with those who pronounce “karaoke” CARE-ee-OAK-ee instead the correct kahr-okay.

    Our educational system is a failure, and many in our society are linguistically lazy & sloppy.

    It is a pity!

  4. I’ve only seen “pom pon” used in Cajun areas of Louisiana, obviously derived from the French. Is this a valid observation from which to generalize?

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