Friday, September 21, 2007

Shorter OED Lays Waste To Hyphens

We Don't Know How To Use Them, So Dictionary Decides It's Easier To Just Get Rid of Them

Somebody once called me a "grammar Nazi" because I asked them to put a hyphen in a press release between "low" and "carb" when talking about a "low-carb menu."

"But [Competitor X] doesn't do that," my client protested.
"That doesn't make it right," was my gentle reply. "You gain more credibility when your copy is grammatically correct."
"Well, I'll call you back," the client huffed.

In the end, the client was unswayed and it went out as he deemed. It didn't matter that it was wrong. It was just how he wanted it.

Sad thing is many people wouldn't know the difference, given the paucity of understanding about exactly what a compound adjective is. Many media practitioners demonstrate on a daily basis how similarly clueless they are.
Maybe it's blissful ignorance. After all, hyphenated words do look a little ungainly at times. They may be right, but they are hardly etymological things of beauty.
Now comes word that the so-called Shorter Oxford English Dictionary has de-hyphenated 16,000 words. Most are once-compound nouns that have long since lost their hyphens on these shores, such as chickpea, potbelly and ice cream.
That would seem to augur for a full-blown assault on the hyphen. Fortunately, the editors say, the hyphen still has a place when it comes to compound adjectives.
Editor Angus Stevenson gave the example of "twenty-odd people" at a party. But if there was no hyphen, would it be twenty people who are odd?
So low-carb it is.

No comments: