Sunday, 23 September 2007

Goodbye to good-bye (Hymn to the Hyphen)

Well, first of all it turns out that the hyphen is dead. Prescriptivists among you may want to shed a tear as the new ed of the Oxford Shorter Dictionary is dropping a load of them because, basically, we're all too lazy to be bothered with them. Some words are losing the hyphen and becoming compounds (eg 'bumblebee' rather than 'bumble bee') and some are becoming noun phrases (eg 'ice cream' rather than 'ice-cream'). Do not expect any English teacher to take that as a reasonable excuse any time soon. There are other dictionaries.,,2172733,00.html

However, it is a bit of a trend, as this article from The Times four years ago shows:

So why is this happening? Well, as usual we could probably blame e-language. We're typing, we're going speedily, we can't be bothered to move up an extra line to reach the hyphen on the top row. And it's way down the menu on predictive text. Also possibly search engines have got more sophisticated so they recognise the word whether or not it has the hyphen included. And then it asks 'did you mean...' and really annoys you.

And it could just be regular language change - we all know levels of punctuation have gone up and down according to fashion, just like hemlines. Perhaps, en masse we've all just decided to go for the easier option, without the hyphen.

No comments: