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.









 

8 comments:

  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!

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    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:
      http://thewordden.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/rampaging-hyp-hens-rant.html

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    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!

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    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!

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  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."

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

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  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.

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

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