When I walked into the home store, I asked for those long nails that hold eaves troughs up. “You mean gutters?” a man working for the store asked.

When I walked into the home store, I asked for those long nails that hold eaves troughs up.

“You mean gutters?” a man working for the store asked.

I didn’t know there was a difference.

In fact, I later checked an online dictionary — Oxford Dictionaries, “The world’s most trusted dictionaries” — and it defined eaves trough as “a gutter fixed beneath the edge of a roof.” Except it spelled “eavestrough,” as one word.

When I spell eavestrough as one word, my computer spellchecker chastises me. It draws a line under the word. The line is red, as if one of my old English teachers is reading this. Just by writing the last two paragraphs I’ve probably lowered my grade to a “C.”

Eaves trough or eavestrough? Either one is close enough for column work. Who’s going to quibble over one space?

Expert Opinions

Certainly not Jan Freeman, the former Boston Globe editor who wrote the weekly column “The Word” for her newspaper before retiring in August. She also writes online about words at the blog “Throw Grammar From The Train: Notes From A Recovering Nitpicker.”

On Aug. 7, 2010, the former Ohioan was back in her home state, “renewing my acquaintance with my native dialect,” when she wrote about “eaves troughs,” admitting parenthetically that “I write it as one word, myself, but I see the spellchecker doesn’t approve.”

Call it a computer conspiracy.

The linguist drew upon her Buckeye upbringing.

“Eavestroughs was a common synonym for gutters when I was young,” she recalled, “but ... it seems to have been marginalized by national advertisers, who made gutters the generic term.”

Several readers who commented on her post noted that ‘eavestrough’ was not a term that they heard in Georgia, Massachusetts or New Jersey. Others from Michigan, New York and Canada, however, were quite familiar with it.

In fact, a Canadian website called “Toronto Eavestroughing” featured blogged advice about both eavestroughs and gutters.

“I do not mean to confuse you when I alternate between eavestrough and gutter,” the writer assured. “They mean the same thing.”

And you’ve got to believe this because the website went to all the trouble of picturing two guys hanging by their hands from an eaves trough or eavestrough or whatever. I hope it was to demonstrate the strength of their gutters, and not just because this is what people in Canada do for fun.

At any rate, you wouldn’t attempt this sort of hanging around unless you knew absolutely everything there is to know about eavestroughs, including how much weight they’ll hold before you have to picture two guys on the ground in a heap of gutter pieces.

So, the guy in the store could have cut me some slack.

Back to the store

I didn’t know any of this, of course, when I was in the store.

Instead of arguing, I deferred to the store worker’s terminology. If you choose your battles in life, this wasn’t one that I wanted to wage.

“Yeah, gutters. I need gutter nails.”

“Last aisle, halfway down, on the left,” the man in the store said.

I walked that way, and the last thing I heard him say was, “We also sell gutter screws, which work better.”

In life, one question almost always leads to another.