Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Can you lose your hyphen when playing leap-frog?

img src="" border="0" title="We've moved to" alt="We've moved to" />

According to the BBC, last month the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary announced that its sixth edition will remove hyphens from no fewer than 16,000 words.

Some of these, such as leap-frog, will become one word while others will just lose the hyphen; walking-stick for example, will be changed to walking stick.

"But how will we differentiate between a stick designed to aid mobility and a magical stick that can walk?", I hear you cry. The answer is a mixture of context and old fashioned common sense (formerly known as old-fashioned common-sense). If there is genuine ambiguity as to whether the prefix is a verbal noun or a participle adjective then the hyphen must remain; otherwise I find them wholly unnecessary. I would never assume that a pot belly is the belly of an earthenware vessel (unless the context suggested so) so why would I need a hyphen?

The article, however, suggests that technology is the reason the hyphen is becoming unfashionable.

The blame, as is so often the case, has been put at least in part on electronic communication. In our time-poor lifestyles, dominated by the dashed-off [or should that be dashed off or dashedoff] e-mail, we no longer have time to reach over to the hyphen key.
Balderdash, I say. Especially as the decrease in hyphen use has coincided with an increase in the use of the dash — an entirely different piece of punctuation but the same button on your keyboard. I have discussed my reasons for liking the dash in a previous post.

But hang on a minute. I don't think I'm quite ready to pen the hyphen's obituary as when I look at the above quote it's my view that "dashed-off" benefits from the hyphen. It just reads better — more smoothly somehow. The hyphen in e-mail, however, doesn't serve any purpose at all and I'm always cursing the Beeb's dogged refusal to join in with the rest of the world and drop it.

I don't know, I guess we're just going to have to play it by ear and be forgiving when it comes to other people's use of this messy, cluttering, largely redundant little character.

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Blogger Gez said...

Sorry to those who are offended by my hymen/hyphen pun in the title. I realise it's childish and vulgar but the picture used by the BBC article didn't really leave me much choice. Frankly, it was pushed into my lap, so to speak.

3 October 2007 at 18:49  
Blogger Dan said...

Where does 'leapfrogging' stand, if that makes any sense? This story, also on the Beeb, is hyphen-free already:

4 October 2007 at 09:11  
Blogger Dan said...

P.S. I wouldn't put a hyphen in, I just wondered if this pointed to an inconsistency at the Beeb - you suggest that they are refusing to move with the times and de-hyphen (hyphen needed there, 'dehyphen' sounds like a chemical used to clean stone floors).

4 October 2007 at 09:14  
Blogger Dan said...

That link ends 7026851.stm

Gez won't tell me how to do links as he doesn't like sharing.

4 October 2007 at 09:16  
Blogger Dan said...

I bet Gez will get all excited when he sees there have been 5 comments on this piece.

4 October 2007 at 09:17  
Blogger Dan said...

Sorry, 6.

4 October 2007 at 09:17  
Blogger Gez said...

[a href="http://www.danisatechnospaz.duh"] Click here[/a]

But use angled brackets instead of square brackets and you get this

Click here

4 October 2007 at 10:29  
Blogger Gez said...

Also Daniel (if that is your real name), the BBC was not showing inconsistency in its (hilarious) article about the Ulster leapfrogger. It's only the word email that they are funny about, the rest of the time the OED seems to be the guide of choice.

4 October 2007 at 23:32  

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