Grammar and geekdom

What is the grammatically correct way to write the word, “murderhobo”? Should it be one word? Two words? Hyphenated? It’s an odd topic, but it feels like it’s appropriate for this site.

Essentially, murderhobo is a sort of compound word. Anyone familiar with tabletop gaming knows the concept. The question a reader might have right now could be, “Why would anyone waste time trying to figure out the grammatically correct way of writing the word?”

My answer is that, in the world of TTRPGs, there is a fairly steady stream of terms, concepts, and acronyms that flow out of the hobby. Considering that this is an open-ended phenomenon, it stands to reason that the terms should adhere to the same conventions that apply to every other aspect of language. The community inventing these terms needs to own them and ensure that their ideas reach the light of day in a clear and recognizable manner. For the sake of common conversation, this is important, but also for use in rule books, blog posts, and anything else.

Murderhobo is, grammatically speaking, a compound word. (There’s a good article on Grammarly explaining all of this stuff, and I’ll take excerpts from that article to illustrate my point.) At its core, a compound word is an entirely new concept mashing together seemingly two unrelated words. In this case, “murder” (definition: when someone kills someone else) and “hobo” (definition: a person without a home).

What does this new concept mean? Murderhobo is, A character who wanders the gameworld, unattached to any community, indiscriminately killing and looting. See, gamers are giving the world more than just silly cliches about socially-awkward people. The hobby has invented brilliantly useful terminology. Maybe someday I’ll take the time to parse the difference between mercenary and murderhobo. If we’re going to split hairs and focus on nuance, let’s go all the way, right? Semantics forever!

To be more precise though, murder hobo is a “closed compound word”. This is when a compound word pushes together two different words to make a new one and without a space or hyphen. There are loads of these in English If anyone were to a moment to reflect they’d probably be able to think up quite a few.

Another example would be an “open compound word”. For example, “murder hobo”, or to use another widely recognizable gaming term, “dungeon master”. Now, you might think that the actual word for DM would be a single closed compound word, but it isn’t. This is also how it’s written, as an open compound word, on D&D’s official site. Considering how aggressive WotC/Hasbro apparently have become regarding their intellectual property, I’d have to assume that they care about grammar as well. Additionally, by separating the words, they stand apart and don’t really create the desired effect.

A final option would be for the use of a hyphen to mash two, or more terms together. It looks odd as a “murder-hobo”, but we’re all used to seeing Magic: The Gathering described as a “deck-building game”. The trick with the hyphen in this case requires that the compounded words almost function as an adjective. That wouldn’t really apply to murderhobo. It is its own word and not dependent on further descriptors.

In a Discord forum, a user named GreyGriffin offered an interpretation of the problem, I feel like murder hobo is kind of unfair to actual hobos – i.e. itinerant poor – so murderhobo feels more appropriate, as the portmanteau more meaningfully distances it from the root words.

Basically, the closed compound word does a better job of making one word from two very different unrelated words. So there we are. A conversation probably almost no one thought was worthwhile or interesting has turned into an article on the internet. This is what lots of caffeine and sleepless nights get me, and now I can share them with anyone that took the time to read this.

Works Cited

“murderhobo.” Wiktionary. 23 Apr 2023, 23:07 UTC. 28 Apr 2023, 13:43 <>. Accessed 26 Apr. 2023.

Charlie Hall. ‘Magic publishers sent Pinkerton agents to a YouTuber’s house to retrieve leaked cards’. Polygon, Accessed 26 Apr. 2023.

GreyGriffin. “Re: Here’s is an RPG grammar question: What is the grammatically correct way to write “murderhobo”? Should it be two words? Hyphenated? One word?” Discord. 26 Apr. 2023, Accessed 26 Apr. 2023.






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