Friday, September 21, 2007

weekly writing coach: un-hyphen?

The BBC reports this week that hyphenated words are on the wane, and email takes the blame: Our need for speed in communicating has spread from text-messagers yearning to save money to emailers seeking to save time. As if to confound writers, proofreaders and copyeditors, however, some formerly hyphenated words will split in two while others become compound nouns:
The sixth edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary has knocked the hyphens out of 16,000 words, many of them two-word compound nouns. Fig-leaf is now fig leaf, pot-belly is now pot belly, pigeon-hole has finally achieved one word status as pigeonhole and leap-frog is feeling whole again as leapfrog.
That sure sells dictionaries. We especially like the comment from Hugh Payne, of York, England, on the BBC story: "Indeed, it is a mistake to make a fuss about punctuation unless clarity or actual meaning is at stake. As the house-style guide of Oxford University Press used to say, 'If you take hyphens seriously, you will surely go mad'." The Shorter OED offers writers lots of online help: You can download code here to put an "Ask Oxford" search function on your website, access their "ask experts" page with frequently asked language questions here, and see their resources for better writing here.

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