Shake your pom pom! Raise your pom-pon! Pom pom? ...Pompon?!
While I spent my years in high school cheer believing what I
was waving around at the crowd to be a pom-pom, I recently discovered others
have had something else in mind. With the change in the spelling being as
simple as a letter, this is something that seems to leave the cheerleading
world in great distress. Being both an ex-cheerleader and a grammar enthusiast,
I had to dive in and do some research to discover both the correct usage and
history of this word. If you’ve been comfortably enjoying your cheerleading
career and hadn’t the slightest clue of this debate, turn back now—you might
not like what you see…
There are many different variations of each of the two
Hyphenated (ie: pom-pom and pom-pon)
With a space (ie: pom pom and pom pon)
No spaces (ie: pompom and pompon)
Let’s go back to basics:
Mirriam-Webster defines pom-pom
To take it back even further, the etymology (word history)
of the word pom-pom is said to be an alteration of the French word pom-pon.
Mirriam-Webster defines pom-pon
And now a chrysanthemum, for your reference:
The two definitions prove to be closely related, with pompom having a varied definition to directly
define the cheerleading essential.
As for the hyphen or space between words, it seems that
there is no agreement across varied resources. Mirriam-Webster uses a hyphen
between each spelling, while the Online Etymology Dictionary lists the two without
a space or a hyphen. During a quick Google search, you will find that the each
word alternates between spellings across even the first page of results.
Here is a graph (Ngram) from Google Books, which pulls
together words that occur in a variety of books—English, British English,
The graph above shows the spelling of pompom and pompon (with no
space or hyphen), and the popularity of each spelling fluctuates from when it
first appeared in books in the 1800s. Initially, pompom is less frequently used
than pompon, but the spelling of pompom jumps into popularity in the 1900s. It
is surpassed again shortly after 1910, and the two are almost even around 1980,
but by the end of the graph we are shown that pompon’s usage in books has slowly plummeted by the 2000’s.
It is clear that currently pompom is more commonly seen than the word
pompon, which would explain the surprise (mine included) when some notice the
difference—often mistaken for a typo. The initial word pompon seemed to originate with no space
between the two words, which may be a good idea to stick with, for peace of
mind. However, it seems that the words themselves have become interchangeable
(with pompom being the current
leader), and the hyphen or space will have to be up to you. With that being said, I would be prepared with a folder and evidence on deck if you plan on consistently using the word pompon around your teammates. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Unfortunately, this debate remains inconclusive. The bright
side is, it looks like however you choose to spell it or say it, you hold
endless pom-pom freedom. Maybe we should just stick to spirit fingers after all.