Writing Hacks: Word Trends—Death to the Hyphen?

Posted on Sep 12, 2017


We don’t notice it, but over the last few years, a mass murder has been happening. On a micro scale, it may not seem too obvious, but when you look at the big picture, you’ll see it.

Hyphen at http://www.hyphenpodcast.com/

In 2007 alone, the Oxford English Dictionary released a new edition wherein 16,000 compound words had their hyphens removed. This change is seen as a death caused by the Internet age.


Traditionally, hyphens have been used for compound nouns, compound adjectives, and/or compound adverbs. The use of hyphens fall under the traditional use of grammar—it’s not something that is just because it is. Compound adjectives typically need no hyphen, provided they are located in the predicate. However, if they are in the subject, the compound adjective must be connected by a hyphen to emphasize that the whole phrase modifies the noun it follows.


   My dog is well mannered.

   My well-mannered dog is trained to do tricks.


The rule for compound nouns is much more complex. To save time, let’s just say that many compound words start off as two separate words. As they became more popular, they became connected, first with a hyphen, then eventually, the hyphen was dropped altogether.


Now, back to the issue at hand. What does the Internet have to do with the hyphen massacre? This is because in the Internet age, brevity is a priority. One keystroke may just be the difference between beating or missing a deadline. In our perceived need to type efficiently, we drop characters that seem useless, and often, the hyphen is a victim.


Here are some words that have had their hyphens removed:


   e-mail to email


   pot-hole to pothole


   chick-pea to chickpea


   water-bed to water bed


   hobby-horse to hobby horse


   water-borne to waterborne


   start-up to startup

   clean-up to cleanup


This, however, is not a new thing. Many of the 16,000 words that had their hyphens removed in the Oxford English Dictionary had long since dropped theirs in Merriam-Webster. As far as Americans know, bumble-bee has always been bumblebee, ice-cream has always been ice cream, and cry-baby has always been crybaby. This shows a difference in the evolution of language between British English and American English.


While it may seem that the death of the hyphen is a case of mass murder, this punctuation mark is far from its demise. The hyphen still has a place in grammar. Just look at the words mother-in-law and editor-in-chief and imagine them without their hyphens. Doesn’t look very appealing, does it? For a rundown on how to use hyphens (and dashes), click here to read our article on the subject.


Moreover, the use of hyphens decreases ambiguity, especially for compound adjectives and compound adverbs. Honestly, anything that helps make English less confusing is an immense help.


So is the hyphen dead? We say not and far from it, actually.




Disclaimer: Image is not ours. Credit to the owner.

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