This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Hyphen-ventilating: a rant.

To hyphen or not to hyphen?

Well, it depends partly on when you are. When you are in the history of a word, that is.

Take a fairly recent example, I started off e-mailing people, but now email them. The same sort of thing has happened to the words pigeon-hole and hyper-link.

Sometimes the hyphen disappears in another way: for example, fig-leaf is now usually fig leaf, and ice-cream is now often ice cream.

Is there any rhyme or reason in these changes? Only that English words seem to abhor a hyphen (about 16,000 words lost their hyphens in the 2007 of the Shorter Oxford Dictionary). Except, except, except...

...are you talking about two-hundred-year-old ladies, or two hundred-year-old ladies? It that a man-eating snake:

Reticulated python.

or a man eating snake?

Snake soup.

Or, as I saw recently, is the new, possibly dementia-preventing drug solamezumab an antibody drug or an anti-body drug?

I'd be happy to take one, but you're not getting me within spitting distance of the other, I can tell you.

Word To Use Today: antibody. This word comes from the Old English bodig, and is related to the Old Norse buthkr, which means box. The anti bit is Greek.



  1. The hyphen can be as frustrating as the comma at times!
    I really do feel for people who are learning English as a second language.
    Oh, and don't forget the word break hyphen!

    1. I feel for people like me who are learning English as a FIRST language!
      Just in case it's of interest, there's some nonsense about word-break hyp-hens here:

    2. Loved it!
      I myself would never break up a word, unless it was already separate by a hyphen. It just shouldn't be allowed.
      The end!

    3. I did think just briefly of muttering something about narrow newspaper columns, but decided it would probably be safer not.
      No hyphens for me if I can possibly avoid it, Jingles. Honest!

  2. Hyphens often make me pause, more so than both commas and apostrophes. The placement, misplacement or omission of a hyphen can radically change the meaning of a sentence, as you've demonstrated. So yeah ... hyphens ... as my Mum often said: "They can be tricky sometimes."

    1. You mum sounds a wise wise woman, Eddie - and that's a perfect precis of the post!

  3. I have never given hyphens any thought which just shows how silly I am They are clearly fascinating...Much to learn from this post.

    1. And in the words of the song, the more I find out the less I know!