Is it a coincidence that the venerable Oxford Dictionary is dumping the hyphen (always a source of confusion for writers) just around the National Punctuation Day in the US?
Last week, the sixth edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary knocked off hyphens from around 16,000 words. (BBC report)
But the dictionary still hasn’t been able to knock out the confusion. Earlier, the doubt was whether a compound word is one word, hyphenated or two words. But still there still no clarity on when is a compound word one word and when two words.
Fig-leaf is now fig leaf and pot-belly is pot belly — two words; while a few others have fused to become one words, like, pigeon-hole has become pigeonhole and leap-frog has turned into leapfrog. Similarly, ice-cream is now ice cream, but post-modern is postmodern.
Maybe someone with a strong knowledge of English language can throw some light on this.
Shorter OED editor Angus Stevenson doesn’t give a clear explanation on why some words have split into two while others have merged into one.
“We only reflect what people in general are reading. We have been tracking this for some time and we’ve been finding the hyphen is used less and less,” he says.
Why people are using the hyphen less? One version doing the rounds is they don’t have the time or inclination to reach for the hyphen key while typing.
By the way, around the time the Oxford Dictionary knocked hyphens off, in the US National Punctuation Day was celebrated on September 24.
The official website says, “But what started as a clever idea to remind corporations and professional people of the importance of proper punctuation has turned into an everyday mission to help school children learn the punctuation skills they need to be successful in life.”
No doubt punctuations are so important, wrong usage can change the meaning. “My sister, who is in the US, will come tomorrow” implies I have only one sister. But the same sentence without the first comma, could mean I have more than one sister, and it’s the one in the US who is coming tomorrow.
But the most celebrated example is this:
An English teacher wrote these words on the whiteboard: “woman without her man is nothing”. The teacher then asked the students to punctuate the words correctly.
The men wrote: “Woman, without her man, is nothing.”
The women wrote: “Woman! Without her, man is nothing.”
(My earlier post: Punctuations are important)