When Words Get Together

Hyphenated words / hyphenated-words / hyphenatedwords


Catriona Tippin aka @ProofReadingTip gives us the low-down...


Here’s a surface-skimming look at the use (or not) of hyphens to join ordinarily separate words. 

One of the many delights of the English language is the speed of construction of new words. 

Sometimes a three-part evolution takes place: 
book mark / book-mark / bookmark 
court room / court-room / courtroom 

Here are some words at the end of this process:
blackjack 
bumblebee
cashflow 
email 
goodwill 
handbook 
highbrow 
lifeline
 lifestyle 
masterclasses 
pigeonhole 
singsong 
spellchecker 
takeover 
workforce

Here are some well-established and happy hyphens:
born-again 
fast-paced 
get-together 
knee-jerk 
rat-race 
sabre-rattling 
shell-like 
slow-blinking 

Proof reading / proof-reading / proofreading – all three forms are in use but I think proofreading is winning. 

The need to create hashtags and websites is probably speeding up the fusion of words and the losing of hyphens. 

There may be two adjacent occurrences of the same letter but this doesn’t necessarily stop the fusion:
cooperation 
earring 

These still appear occasionally with a hyphen but are happiest without. 

Sometimes you can tell two words are never going to lose the hyphen, there’s some kind of instinctive aesthetic imperative going on with hat-trick – hattrick just doesn’t look right, does it? 

Some prefixes have fused to their stems: 
republished 
redrafting 
postnatal
proactive
preamble
ongoing
multimedia
mismatch
degrade 

Some have not (yet?):
anti-freeze
ex-husband
 in-depth
 pre-school 

Email is increasingly used rather than e-mail, though there’s also e-invoice and I doubt that will ever lose the hyphen (as it would look oddly German?) 

Here are some examples where the hyphen (or not) is essential to the meaning:
re-covering / recovering 
re-creation / recreation 
re-laying / relaying 

Compound modifiers may have hyphens which matter to the meaning; these are the hyphens you need to check carefully. I like these examples:

Three-hundred-year-old trees are an indeterminate number of trees that are 300 years old. 
Three hundred-year-old trees are three trees that are 100 years old. 
Three hundred year-old trees are 300 trees that are one year old. 


Use the Find function under your Edit tab to look for the hyphens you’ve used, and check the lot, giving each one some thought.


Remember a hyphen isn’t a dash – but that’s another story, for a future Proofreading Tip.





Catriona Tippin has been a member of SCBWI since 2006 and helps organise venues for SCBWI North East. Details of her writing and illustrating here. She proofreads study guides, house magazines and publicity material for two national educational charities, in addition to working on a variety of proofreads and copyedits for the growing self-published world. Her monthly column is intended to give you food for thought, remembering “Any correction of the speech or writing of others will contain at least one grammatical, spelling or typographical error” (McKean’s Law, named after its inventor Erin McKean, editor of the Oxford American Dictionary). 

7 comments:

  1. I have to confess I'm sometimes in the habit of treating punctuation like hundreds ad thousands - liberally and randomly sprinkling over my work and hyphens along with ellipses are my favourites for that! Ooh and exclamation marks!
    But this is a great reference post, Catriona and so interesting so see the development of words - it really is a mating process isn't it?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And sometimes how far the relationship goes really does matter - there's a difference between "the police recovered the stolen sofa" and "the police re-covered the stolen sofa"...

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  2. Looking forward to the hyphen/minus/en dash/em dash article - I still get confused about those!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So gratifying when your word processing program makes some of these decisions for you, isn't it?

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  3. Hi Nick - and here's the dashes article - http://www.wordsandpics.org/2014/07/proofreading-tips-dashes.html

    ReplyDelete
  4. The possible values have proven to be much better for the students and will favorably bring all those possible instances to follow.

    ReplyDelete

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