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Jul 5 2012   12:39PM GMT

lowdown, low down or low-down



Posted by: Ivy Wigmore
Tags:
adjectives
CIO
hyphenation
slang

Which is correct?
Read the FAQ to get the ______ on open source cloud computing.
a. low down
b. lowdown
c. low-down

Answer: b

Explanation:

If we want to differentiate among the three — and I always want to differentiate, if possible — here are distinct meanings for these variations:

There’s not much use for “low down.” You could use it to identify the location of something, as in: “The dishes were low down on the shelves” or “Security is too low down on the list of priorities.” In these contexts, either “low-down” or “lowdown” would be incorrect. The phrasing seems a little odd to me, though: I’d be more likely to say “The dishes were down low on the shelves” or “Security was down too low on the list of priorities.”

We typically hyphenate compound words used as adjectives, so that’s how we’d use “low-down.” As an adjective, “low-down” is usually used metaphorically to refer to the nasty or base nature of something — like a low-down, dirty cheat. It can also be low mood-wise as in the low-down blues.

Let’s use “lowdown” as a single word to refer to information, as in “the lowdown on portable apps” or something like that. Most sources also allow the hyphenated version as a noun meaning info but since we can have two distinct meanings, let’s keep them separate.

And then there’s “down-low,” which means secret, as in “Keep that on the down low.” According to the Urban Dictionary, if we really want to be sneaky we can use LDODL and those in the know will understand that we’re looking for the lowdown on the down-low. (Translates to: We want the information delivered to us discreetly.) The UD entry hyphenates both terms but… I’m not going to get into that again. Not today, anyway.

Follow me on Twitter @tao_of_grammar

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