In the midst of the NYC Bedbug Panic of 2010 — see Tara Parker-Pope, “The Curious World of Bedbug Research” in the Health section of the NYT blog 8/30/10 and the full story, “They Crawl, They Bite, They Baffle Scientists”, by Donald G. McNeil Jr. in Science Times — came two comments in the blog on spelling:
[comment #19] I understand that entymologists refer to them as bed bugs (2 words) not bedbugs, as the author of this article uses. Apparently if the animal is an actual bug, it should be 2 words. Dragonfly is an example of an insect that is not really a fly, so they merge it into one word.
FROM TPP — Yes we have heard about this from a few readers. The Webster’s New World College Dictionary, which is our definitive source when something’s not specifically addressed by the NYT stylebook, spells it as one word. So for now, it’s bedbugs in the New York Times. But I agree the argument for bedbugs as two words is compelling. [AMZ: there is no argument here, only assertion.]
(Larry Horn on ADS-L waggishly suggested that entymologists constituted an instance of folk entomology. Certainly, some confusion between entomology and etymology is common, common enough to merit an entry in Brians. The orthographic combo entymology is also reasonably common, as you can see from a Google search — apparently as an error for entomology.)
[comment #74] Bed bugs is TWO words – not one. The general rule for writing out common names of insects is as follows. If the insect name is a misnomer (e.g., the dragonfly is NOT a fly and neither is a damselfly), then the whole name is written as one word. If it is not a misnomer, then it is written as two words (e.g., house fly, which is a real fly). The bed bug is a “true” bug and therefore is two words.