Don’t believe the hyphen

Posted by Laura
There’s nothing more likely to get a team of journalists all of a dither than a good old punctuation spat – and here at Homepage Towers we do love a healthy debate about a confused comma or a questionable use of quotation marks.
Today it was the turn of the hyphen, so overused by so many it must be the most exhausted punctuation mark in existence. The offending word was the rather curious-sounding demystified – or should that be de-mystified? The former, as it turns out, but not after a good few minutes of ferreting in dictionaries, ferocious justifications over Messenger and web-surfing for examples to support our arguments.
People commonly hyphenate words such as demystify, dethrone and detoxify – and, moreover, reuse, redevelop and redefine. But hyphens are generally only needed to make words make more sense, for example re-examine instead of reexamine, and to distinguish words with separate meanings such as re-cover (to cover something once again) and recover (to get back something that was lost, or to improve after illness).
They are also used in compound adjectives, in phrases such as "it was in his long-term plan" (adjective describing the plan), but "he wanted to plan for the long term" (long term being a noun, a period of time). But before we get too bogged down in the detail, an interesting question arose from our discussions. In times gone by the hyphen was spread liberally through literature and the media – old newspapers are full of examples of to-day and other such quirks. Shakespeare himself was a big fan of it as a literary tool. Are we being too restrictive nowadays by not liberating the hyphen more and letting it loose on our language – or should the hyphen move with modern times, where typing is quick and unnecessary keystrokes should be rationed?
Let us know what you think.  
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57 Responses to Don’t believe the hyphen

  1. Unknown says:

    Whatever happened to grammar?!  My pet hates are: should of, could of, would of (the word \’have\’ should be used instead of \’of\’); everyone who pronounces the letter \’H\’ as in the word hate, and one of the lines in the Paul McCartney song "Live and Let Die" – the world in which we live in.  One \’in\’ is sufficient and should be \’the world in which we live\’.  Another favourite is law and order – there is no \’r\’ at the end of law.  I\’ve heard newsreaders get this one wrong and if they can\’t get it right, there\’s not much hope for the rest of us.  
    Northerners and Southerners alike – forget the \’r\’ in bath.  Regional accents are fine but please get the grammar right!!

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