Happy hyphens in exile

hyphens.jpg16,000 hyphens have gone missing, it seems. So say the Oxford Shorter English Dictionary people, and every second blogger on the face of the earth has commented on the fact.

Russell Smith in Canada's Globe and Mail has one of the more entertaining and perverse takes. His summary of the original message follows - and he doesn't care a jot.

The editors of the dictionary have decided, in an awesome display of ruthless language modification, that the conventions of hyphenation were arbitrary and needed simplification. They changed most of the hyphenated words – such as leap-frog and ice-cream – by turning them into one word (leapfrog) or two distinct words (ice cream).

But where did all those banished hyphens go? They can't just vanish. They must go somewhere. A correspondent to Wellington's Dominion Post claimed they had all taken refuge in that newspaper's real estate pages. So I did some research and while the evidence is inconclusive (certainly I found fewer than 10,000 hyphens) there may be a measure of truth in the claim. And I quote:

L-A-R-G-E beautifully-presented 3-bedroom, low-maintenance home with double-glazed windows, mouth-watering kitchen, family-sized open-plan living areas, built-in wardrobe and double car-port, park-like grounds in sought-after city-end address. Luxury-sized split-level bathrooms with screen-printed one-millimetre thick light-emitting wallpaper, double-vanity unit and "Rolls-Royce" heating system. North-facing for all-day sun. Top-of-the-range kitchen with side-by-side refrigerator/freezer. Foliage-based 4-hectare bush-reserve and indoor-outdoor flow offers easy-care lifestyle for do-it-yourselfer, out-of-towner or owner-occupier family of redundant hyphens.

Let us not lament those lost hyphens. They have simply migrated to a more congenial environment, where they are ever-appreciated by space-stressed copy-writers.

Deepest-apologies to the perceptive-reader who noticed this new life-style-trend. Sorry, I lost the clipping and cannot give-you credit.

Image copied without permission from the nice people at www.fonts.com, who explain hyphens, en-dashes and em-dashes beautifully.


Oct 17, 2007 • Posted by Kaila Colbin

Hilarious! I wonder, from where, did all the extra, commas, one can find, in New Zealand media, come? Are they, part of the Oxford, exodus, as well, or, are they suffering, their own, diaspora?

Oct 17, 2007 • Posted by rachel

The comma mystery is not so mysterious. They are just refugees from the eternal War of the Commas. All editors are aligned on one side or the other: comma-putter-inners or comma-puller-outers. Sometimes a community of commas tires of the conflict, and emigrates in search of a safe haven. But peace never lasts long, poor dears.

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