Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A Rant: Let's Cheer for the Loss of Hyphens

An Answer to My Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies Pal


In today's issue (Oct. 3) of the Glendale News-Press, June Casagrande, "A Word, Please" columnist, noted the sad (or not-so sad) loss of the hyphen due to the influence of the Web. Technology has thrust all manner of bad grammar habits onto those who love correct English. Many of these habits are enumerated in The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success. Some are worried that the hyphen may go extinct! Well, I for one will cheer.

As June--who is also the author of Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies --notes, the Brits don't agree with Americans on some points of hyphen-using anyway. Worse the style guides can't agree and the dictionaries don't either.

But the Net is promulgating worse than just this distressing disappearing-hyphen syndrome. It has encouraged us to push all kinds of words together. That comes from what I call the "domain name influence." Or domainnameinfluence, if you will. Book or bookcover? Bookfair or book fair. Backmatter or back matter? Hard copy or hardcopy? You get the idea.

Even with the zero-tolerance approach to grammar I use to keep authors out of hot water with agents and publishers (and therefore make it more likely they'll get published), I am making combined-word style choices everywhere else but in query letters.

Simply put, I love to stick words together. Word-bonding is a time-honored tradition in English. As an example, the word therefore. So word-gluing is sort of back to the Germanic roots we came from! (The Germans use Fingerhut for finger hat--or, in translation, thimble).

Poets have pushed words together for ages, too. So, do I care? Not a whit. In my deepest recesses, I think grammar snobs are great big meanies, too. It's just that I don't want any of my readers to get caught in a net spread by those meanies--and they are everywhere waiting to put a kink in your career.

Back to the zero-tolerance thing. If you want to impress a literary agent or prospective boss, please don't put hyphens in words they are convinced are correct only one way. They believe it's nonfiction, not non-fiction. Though I don't get a red squiggle with either version of the word on my Amazon wordspeller 'cause it isn't as fussy as your run-of-the-mill agent or future employer will be.
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Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author THIS IS THE PLACE; HARKENING: A COLLECTION OF STORIES REMEMBERED; TRACINGS, a chapbook of poetry; and two how-to books, THE FRUGAL BOOK PROMOTER: HOW TO DO WHAT YOUR PUBLISHER WON'T; and THE FRUGAL EDITOR: PUT YOUR BEST BOOK FORWARD TO AVOID HUMILIATION AND ENSURE SUCCESS.
Her other blogs include TheNewBookReview and Authors Coalition, a blog that helps writers and publishers turn a ho-hum book fair booth into a sizzler.

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