Thursday, January 8, 2009

Hyphens, Schmyphens

I've written about them before and doubtless will again. For they are troublesome little creatures for many writers.

I'm working on a manuscript whose author either missed the grammar lessons on punctuation marks or (as another author previously mentioned here) writes as if he's being paid by the hyphen; or both.

You know the weird dynamic that can occur when the more you look at a certain (correct) word, the more it looks wrong? Or when a repeated error begins to look correct? Such is the case with the profusion of unnecessary hyphens in this book. By unnecessary, I mean they appear in phrases that could be compound modifiers if followed by a noun. But they stand on their own in the book—in the company of their errant hyphens—and they appear so often that I've questioned my own knowledge. Some examples:

  • guns-in-schools

  • out-of-step

  • computer-accessible

  • after-the-fact

  • metal-detector

  • fellow-travelers

  • around-the-bend

  • true-believer

  • less-than-comfortable

  • face-to-face

I mentioned this to a colleague. He articulated the issue perfectly: "I recently worked on a book that was so full of hyphens I started to doubt my ability to reason out the phrases."