Hyphen, hyphen, where did you go?

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Micheal
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Hyphen, hyphen, where did you go?

Postby Micheal » Mon Sep 17, 2012 6:17 am UTC

I've noticed in the last couple of years that hyphenated words have started to disappear quite rapidly. Why? Hyphens don't make words wrong. For example:

The ill-conceived tactic that Jane used caused John to become frustrated.

versus

The ill conceived tactic that Jane used caused John to become frustrated.

You're probably thinking "but that's the same thing!" Not quite. Lemme 'splain.

In the first sentence, the hyphen makes it clear that what was conceived was wrong, rather than someone that was sick or was made sick.

Yes?

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dudiobugtron
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Re: Hyphen, hyphen, where did you go?

Postby dudiobugtron » Mon Sep 17, 2012 8:50 pm UTC

If the tactic was both ill and conceived, then it would be:

The ill, conceived tactic...

So I don't think there's any ambiguity. Instead, I think hyphens are often used to make concepts like 'ill-conceived' a word in their own right. 'Ill-conceived' is a word so if you're using that word, it needs a hyphen.
Hyphens would help reduce ambiguity if both of these interpretations were possible though:
ill-conceived tactic, vs:
ill conceived-tactic.
But since no-one will think the second option is what was meant, then there's no issue.

Other examples of where hyphens can help with ambiguity are:

Dirty-movie theatre, vs:
Dirty movie-theatre.

and of course:
http://xkcd.com/37/


---------------------------

As another example, compare:

The shocking blue cardigan.
with:
The shocking, blue cardigan.
or:
The shocking-blue cardigan.

In the first case, it's obvious that the cardigan is 'shocking blue', and it doesn't need a hyphen to disambiguate it. If the cardigan really was blue *and* shocking, then the middle example would be used. "Shocking-blue" is unnecessary.
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Birbal
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Re: Hyphen, hyphen, where did you go?

Postby Birbal » Tue Sep 18, 2012 12:42 am UTC

Dudiobugtron, I think you misunderstood the original sentence. Ill in this context is an adverb.

According to strict style, hyphens are used most commonly when an adverb-adjective pair is describing a noun without a form of "to be". Consider the following sentences:

Arabic, a well-known language, is related to Hebrew.
Arabic, related to Hebrew, is a well known language.

"well known" is not hyphenated in the latter because it is linked to the subject by "is". I think this manner of hyphen usage must have begun with a desire to help readers parse sentences more quickly. Also consider these sentences:

Van Gogh's works, little celebrated while he was alive, profoundly influenced later artists.
Van Gogh's works, little-celebrated while he was alive, profoundly influenced later artists.

The well known programming language Java is used for all sorts of applications.
The well-known programming language Java is used for all sorts of applications.

At least in my mind, these sentences read more clearly with hyphens. In the first sentence, when I get to the word "little" I believe my brain anticipates a different use of it, as in "little by little", and the second sentence, for all I know up to the second word, could be talking about a physical well that you draw water from. So, hyphens allow us to communicate more effectively and save a bit of mental effort.

As for why its usage is dying out, I have nothing solid but I do have a few stabs in the dark. Perhaps bite-sized communication (chat, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) has made literature less palatable to us, resulting in reduced exposure and thus sensitivity to finer points of grammar like hyphenation. Also, perhaps people these days, not that I can blame them, don't bother with hyphenation since it is never necessary to convey meaning.

Further reading:
http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/576/01/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyphen#Usage_in_English

edit for typos

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dudiobugtron
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Re: Hyphen, hyphen, where did you go?

Postby dudiobugtron » Tue Sep 18, 2012 1:05 am UTC

Birbal wrote:Dudiobugtron, I think you misunderstood the original sentence.


I will agree that I did not choose a good final example. Also, I did not know about or discern the hyphen conventions you discuss. However, I still think that I understood the sentence.

Also I think my point that a hyphen in that sentence wouldn't help reduce ambiguity is still valid, as are my examples of other situations where a hyphen might reduce ambiguity. They are in response to the OP's statement: "In the first sentence, the hyphen makes it clear that what was conceived was wrong, rather than someone that was sick or was made sick."
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Micheal
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Re: Hyphen, hyphen, where did you go?

Postby Micheal » Tue Sep 18, 2012 7:34 am UTC

Birbal wrote:Dudiobugtron, I think you misunderstood the original sentence. Ill in this context is an adverb.

According to strict style, hyphens are used most commonly when an adverb-adjective pair is describing a noun without a form of "to be". Consider the following sentences:

Arabic, a well-known language, is related to Hebrew.
Arabic, related to Hebrew, is a well known language.

"well known" is not hyphenated in the latter because it is linked to the subject by "is". I think this manner of hyphen usage must have begun with a desire to help readers parse sentences more quickly. Also consider these sentences:

Van Gogh's works, little celebrated while he was alive, profoundly influenced later artists.
Van Gogh's works, little-celebrated while he was alive, profoundly influenced later artists.

The well known programming language Java is used for all sorts of applications.
The well-known programming language Java is used for all sorts of applications.

At least in my mind, these sentences read more clearly with hyphens. In the first sentence, when I get to the word "little" I believe my brain anticipates a different use of it, as in "little by little", and the second sentence, for all I know up to the second word, could be talking about a physical well that you draw water from. So, hyphens allow us to communicate more effectively and save a bit of mental effort.

As for why its usage is dying out, I have nothing solid but I do have a few stabs in the dark. Perhaps bite-sized communication (chat, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) has made literature less palatable to us, resulting in reduced exposure and thus sensitivity to finer points of grammar like hyphenation. Also, perhaps people these days, not that I can blame them, don't bother with hyphenation since it is never necessary to convey meaning.

Further reading:
http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/576/01/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyphen#Usage_in_English

edit for typos
This. Thank you for more accurately explaining. I should probably stop trying to post things after midnight that need to have some sort of coherence.

goofy
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Re: Hyphen, hyphen, where did you go?

Postby goofy » Tue Sep 18, 2012 6:31 pm UTC

Micheal wrote:I've noticed in the last couple of years that hyphenated words have started to disappear quite rapidly.


Is the hyphen really being used less? This could be the recency illusion.

Micheal
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Re: Hyphen, hyphen, where did you go?

Postby Micheal » Wed Sep 19, 2012 6:01 am UTC

goofy wrote:
Micheal wrote:I've noticed in the last couple of years that hyphenated words have started to disappear quite rapidly.


Is the hyphen really being used less? This could be the recency illusion.
Perhaps it is just in what I see posted on Facebook and such, which I will freely admit, that media isn't known as a breeding ground of literacy, but yes, what I have seen has been a decrease in the usage of hyphens.

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Re: Hyphen, hyphen, where did you go?

Postby goofy » Wed Sep 19, 2012 1:41 pm UTC

Micheal wrote:Perhaps it is just in what I see posted on Facebook and such, which I will freely admit, that media isn't known as a breeding ground of literacy, but yes, what I have seen has been a decrease in the usage of hyphens.


But that doesn't mean there really is a decrease. We need evidence!

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Eugo
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Re: Hyphen, hyphen, where did you go?

Postby Eugo » Mon Oct 15, 2012 1:08 pm UTC

Micheal wrote:Is the hyphen really being used less? This could be the recency illusion.
Perhaps it is just in what I see posted on Facebook and such, which I will freely admit, that media isn't known as a breeding ground of literacy, but yes, what I have seen has been a decrease in the usage of hyphens.[/quote]

I notice the Firefox's spell checker complains of some words which I write together, suggesting that I better write them hyphenated. And I'm sure I didn't invent these in most of the cases, I picked them a sufficient number of times to accept the hyphenless versions as the norm. Which is probably the sign of the times.

Generally, I experience the hyphenated pairs as combinations of the two, as in the shop with "Taylor-seamstress" in its name, where it is obvious that the two share the shop. But when the pair, taken together, is not a combination but something new and different from both, I prefer to write it as one word. For example, I'd never write cell-phone, because it's not a cell, nor a combination of a cell and a phone.

As usual, can't remember any better examples, and didn't write down the good ones when I had them.
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NoodleIncident
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Re: Hyphen, hyphen, where did you go?

Postby NoodleIncident » Mon Oct 15, 2012 2:01 pm UTC

The only hyphen-related disappearance I've noticed is the persistance of my school's old keyboarding textbooks in spelling "email" as "e-mail". Annoyed me to no end.

In related news, I am completely incapable of determining whether or not I would have hyphenated "hyphen-related" prior to reading this thread...
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Re: Hyphen, hyphen, where did you go?

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Oct 15, 2012 3:05 pm UTC

I tend to hyphenate most or all compound modifiers (as in "hyphen-related changes"), but few if any compound nouns ("cell phone" and "cellphone" both seem better to me than "cell-phone").
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WanderingLinguist
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Re: Hyphen, hyphen, where did you go?

Postby WanderingLinguist » Mon Oct 15, 2012 7:25 pm UTC

NoodleIncident wrote:The only hyphen-related disappearance I've noticed is the persistance of my school's old keyboarding textbooks in spelling "email" as "e-mail". Annoyed me to no end.

Wait... the disappearance annoyed you, or spelling it "e-mail" annoyed you?

This has been a tough one for me. Once upon a time, it was always unconditionally "e-mail" and that's how everyone used it. The non-hyphenated version always struck me as keyboard laziness. But about a year ago, the AP style guide officially changed from "e-mail" to "email". They also changed "web site" to "website".

The "website" thing I can live with, but I still really detest unhyphenated "email". Unfortunately, I think I'm fighting a lost cause. I don't like it because it doesn't fit English pronunciation rules. If I write "escape" vs "e-scape" they are pronounced differently. The hyphen, in this case, separates a letter pronounced in an unusual way. Writing it without the hyphen is just adding yet another exception to English's already messy pronunciation landscape. But I guess this argument is easily shot down: "email" is likely one of the words already very well-known by non-native English speakers, so I doubt anyone is going to confuse the pronunciation. Still, it annoys me.

In related news, I am completely incapable of determining whether or not I would have hyphenated "hyphen-related" prior to reading this thread...


Me too, although I feel 90% sure I would have hyphenated it.

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tms
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Re: Hyphen, hyphen, where did you go?

Postby tms » Mon Oct 15, 2012 11:53 pm UTC

^ The persistence.
- No, son. I said 'duck'.
- Duck duck duck duck! Duck duck duck duck!

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ThirdParty
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Re: Hyphen, hyphen, where did you go?

Postby ThirdParty » Fri Oct 19, 2012 5:58 am UTC

Just yesterday I was reading a novel (the copyright date was 1995) and hit a sentence that badly needed a hyphen. Unfortunately I've forgotten the sentence and can't seem to relocate it, but it was something like "Asturias valiantly defended itself and precariously united Moorish forces, losing many lives, were unable to defeat it." I read the adverb-adjective combo ("precariously united" in this version) as an adverb-verb combo due to its lack of hyphenation, got a bit further into the sentence, hit the actual verb ("were" in this version), and then found myself unable to parse the sentence. I had to stop, go back, and reread it a few more times before I finally figured out what the intended meaning was.

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Eugo
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Re: Hyphen, hyphen, where did you go?

Postby Eugo » Fri Oct 19, 2012 6:07 am UTC

ThirdParty wrote:Just yesterday I was reading a novel (the copyright date was 1995) and hit a sentence that badly needed a hyphen. Unfortunately I've forgotten the sentence and can't seem to relocate it, but it was something like "Asturias valiantly defended itself and precariously united Moorish forces, losing many lives, were unable to defeat it." I read the adverb-adjective combo ("precariously united" in this version) as an adverb-verb combo due to its lack of hyphenation, got a bit further into the sentence, hit the actual verb ("were" in this version), and then found myself unable to parse the sentence. I had to stop, go back, and reread it a few more times before I finally figured out what the intended meaning was.

IMO, it's not missing a hyphen. It should be "the precariously united".
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Derek
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Re: Hyphen, hyphen, where did you go?

Postby Derek » Fri Oct 19, 2012 10:48 pm UTC

Eugo wrote:
ThirdParty wrote:Just yesterday I was reading a novel (the copyright date was 1995) and hit a sentence that badly needed a hyphen. Unfortunately I've forgotten the sentence and can't seem to relocate it, but it was something like "Asturias valiantly defended itself and precariously united Moorish forces, losing many lives, were unable to defeat it." I read the adverb-adjective combo ("precariously united" in this version) as an adverb-verb combo due to its lack of hyphenation, got a bit further into the sentence, hit the actual verb ("were" in this version), and then found myself unable to parse the sentence. I had to stop, go back, and reread it a few more times before I finally figured out what the intended meaning was.

IMO, it's not missing a hyphen. It should be "the precariously united".

Those aren't exactly the same. "Precariously united Moorish forces" is an indefinite plural (so if the sentence were singular, it would require "a" or "an"), while "the precariously united Moorish forces" is a definite plural. The distinction, as always with definite/indefinite phrases, is subtle, but can be important. In particular, if no Moorish forces were previously mentioned, "the Moorish forces" would be awkward because it presumes the knowledge of some Moorish forces, while "Moorish forces" introduces Moorish forces as a new fact.

As such, I agree that a hyphen would be very helpful to disambiguate the garden path. If it were reconstructed as "the precariously united Moorish forces" then I think it would only be optional, since the sentence is already unambiguous.

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thalia
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Re: Hyphen, hyphen, where did you go?

Postby thalia » Tue Oct 23, 2012 9:30 pm UTC

I believe I still use hyphens when I can. I certainly like them well enough, but I like them better when they tie two generally unrelated words together into one whole phrase. It's kind of a gut feeling. I like ill-conceived, and I like hyphen-related. I would also enjoy all-consuming and pre-determined. I don't enjoy e-mail, as it seems unnecessary I guess? Constructed as opposed to intuitive. With the way I read, a well-placed hyphen can certainly speed me up a word or two per minute.
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Re: Hyphen, hyphen, where did you go?

Postby screen317 » Wed Oct 24, 2012 2:42 pm UTC

thalia wrote:I believe I still use hyphens when I can. I certainly like them well enough, but I like them better when they tie two generally unrelated words together into one whole phrase. It's kind of a gut feeling. I like ill-conceived, and I like hyphen-related. I would also enjoy all-consuming and pre-determined. I don't enjoy e-mail, as it seems unnecessary I guess? Constructed as opposed to intuitive. With the way I read, a well-placed hyphen can certainly speed me up a word or two per minute.
They are all constructed-- "pre-determined" sits worse than "predetermined" for me. I'm fine with hyphens when they're holding together whole words (electronic-mail inclusive), but what contrast could be made with pre-determined? Post-determined?

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thalia
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Re: Hyphen, hyphen, where did you go?

Postby thalia » Thu Oct 25, 2012 5:47 am UTC

Well, following that road I guess all words are constructed, I suppose? You're of course absolutely right that predetermined is a word in its own right. Maybe the reason why I like to hyphenate it is that I like to break words down. Pre is obviously a prefix. Maybe that's where it lies? I could also hyphenate post-apocalyptic and post-traumatic. Although I wouldn't do it to asexual, or inorganic. I'm going to have to think some more about this, there has to be a reason why I prefer some hyphenated words and not others.

edit: or pre-fix, as I just unintentionally demonstrated :D
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