Usage and Grammar

Q. Hi there! In my research I often use the phrase “Israeli-based company,” and colleagues always push back, suggesting that “Israel-based company” sounds more correct. I’ve found references suggesting I’m right but would love confirmation (or correction!) from the good folks at Chicago. Many thanks.

A. In conflicts between logic and idiom, idiom sometimes wins. Logically, a company based in Israel is an Israel-based company. On the other hand, we usually refer to a company’s Israeli headquarters, not its Israel headquarters. Not that the latter form is wrong; a noun can be used attributively—that is, as an adjective but with no change in form—for any reason. We see this in the name “Canada goose,” for the common wild goose Branta canadensis. But that term is a relative outlier. With countries it’s natural to use the adjective form before the noun (the Canada goose is, generically speaking, a Canadian goose). With cities, on the other hand, the adjective form is rare: we refer to a company’s Tel Aviv headquarters, not its Tel Avivian headquarters (to use the accepted demonym). So when we talk about Canadian-style pizza (whatever that is) but Chicago-style commas, we’re expressing a preference for idiom over logic. But Israel isn’t Canada, and usage varies. If you look at Google’s Ngram Viewer, you’ll see that whereas “Canadian-based company” is more common in published (and usually edited) books than “Canada-based company” by a factor of more than two to one, “Israeli-based company” doesn’t even register. In sum, your colleagues would seem to have both logic and usage on their side, but Canada would probably welcome you.