The Super Bowl is the most popular sporting event of the year, yet so many people write its name incorrectly. News outlets, Twitter, your Facebook feed — all have been infected by the awful Superbowl. There is an understandable urge to smash the two words together, to make this massive event its own entity. But it shouldn’t be done, and not just because it looks ugly and gives copy editors such as myself visions of cereal bowls wearing capes.
One of the definitions of bowl in the Oxford English Dictionary is “A sporting occasion … at which a football game is the main (orig. the only) event”; thus, super, in this case, is modifying a specific bowl. In college football, where these types of games are more common, there are the Sugar Bowl, the Orange Bowl, and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl — none of which anyone would feel inclined to compound, whether talking about football or what’s on your kitchen counter.
We are used to seeing the prefix super-, though, so it seems like it might be perfectly reasonable to forgo even a hyphen in order to make a new word. Superhero, superfan, supermajority — all commonly used, all Merriam-Webster-approved. So couldn’t it be just as correct?
The OED saves us the trouble of making this a matter of style or personal preference by giving Super Bowl its own entry. Its first known use was in 1966, when Lamar Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, wrote to the NFL commissioner:
If possible, I believe we should “coin a phrase” for the Championship Game … I have kiddingly called it the “Super Bowl,” which obviously can be improved upon.
Despite the official status of the two-word name, even presumably copyedited headlines from major sites haven’t been safe from the scourge.
It’s supercute to be supersmart and care about proper usage. Don’t write Superbowl this weekend.