A month or so ago, I had the following email exchange with a good friend of mine who is also a Plante Moran vendor and fellow grammar enthusiast:
Foxylocks*: Evidently, you guys are resigning for 2015. I’ll be there next Thursday at 1 to do the horse and pony show.
Me: Really? I hadn’t heard that. I wonder why?
Foxylocks: At least I hope you’re resigning for 2015. Maybe I’m jumping the gun.
Me: Why do you hope we’re resigning?
Foxylocks: Because it’s business for next year! Wait. Did you think I meant resigning? I should have typed re-signing. Meaning, we have you for another year. Clearly I need more coffee.
And of course, “resign” is exactly what I thought she meant. I was completely confused. Why would she no longer want Plante Moran’s business? That’s crazy talk.
Which brings me to the topic of today’s blog: the hyphen. This tiny mark is the Rodney Dangerfield of punctuation. Winston Churchill called it a “blemish, to be avoided wherever possible.” As far back as 1930, Fowler’s “Modern English Usage” advised that, wherever reasonable, the hyphen be dropped, and the 2003 edition of “Oxford Dictionary of English” proclaimed that it was headed for extinction. And that certainly seems to be the case. It seems that, almost overnight, “on-line” became “online” and “e-mail” became “email.” Even words like “nonnegotiable” and “preeminent” no longer require hyphens. (Apparently the prefix/suffix line is drawn at three consonants in a row, however, as “shell-like” still demands a hyphen.)
But there are instances where a hyphen’s removal results in a different meaning altogether. A re-formed rock band is completely different than a reformed one. “Reserving” a table isn’t the same as “re-serving” one. And we can’t forget compound modifiers where eliminating a hyphen results in instances of little used cars, pickled herring merchants, and Plante Moran’s 2,000 odd employees. (Sure, some of us might be a little eccentric, but not all 2,000+ of us.)
There’s a lot more where that came from. If you’d like a more extensive overview of hyphen usage, here’s a quick reference. Otherwise, I’ll be back in two weeks with my most controversial topic to date. Any guesses on what it will be?
Word of the Week: Pickled
Song of the Week: “Give Judy My Notice,” by Ben Folds
*She asked that I use an alias and that it include the word “foxy.” Happy to oblige.