Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Write It Right ~ using hyphens

I looked up readathon at Dictionary.com and got this definition.
a suffix extracted from marathon, occurring as the final element in compounds which have the general sense “an event, as a sale or contest, drawn out to unusual length, often until a prearranged goal, as the contribution of a certain amount of money, is reached”:  walkathon; readathon.  Also, -a-thon, -thon.
I prefer the word without the hyphens, because that's the direction I think the word is headed.  Have you ever given much thought to hyphens?  As a former editor (of two in-house publications in the 1970s), it was my job to notice such things.  As a reader, I noticed hyphens much earlier.  When I was a little girl, the word today was written as to-day.  (Yes, I'm that old, born in 1940.)  I've watched as two separate words often used together became a hyphenated word, and then the hyphen eventually dropped out.  Michael Quinion, writing about The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (SOED) updated in 2007, confirms what I remember.
The five-yearly update of The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (SOED) came out last week.  One matter has caused a lot of comment — the decision by its editors to omit the hyphen from some 16,000 words in the work.

Compound nouns have traditionally begun as separate or hyphenated words but with a strong tendency over time to collapse into single words.  A century ago, it was standard practice to write to-day, but the hyphen has long since evaporated from the page; similarly with teenager (teen-ager from its first use in 1941 until the later 1950s) and lipstick (it was two words in the 1880s, but became hyphenated around the 1920s).  Americans have long been much more willing to write words such as postmodern without the hyphens that British standards require. It will be no surprise to learn that the SOED writes email, not e-mail, and website rather than Web site...

There can be no doubt from the accumulated evidence that the hyphen is on its way out, though reports of its demise are premature.
Ah, yes, I also write email and website.  You should read the funny story about this guy carrying his HYP-HENS sign.

Oh, that hyphenated notice at the top of this post?   It's to remind you (and me) that Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon is this Saturday even though the folks running it still use hyphens.  Below the drawing is this saying:
"Disgusted with life, she retired to the society of books." Rosine Emmet Sherwood


Jan said...

I am going to try it again, though I may not manage as much reading as I would wish.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Good, I'm glad you'll be participating this year.