A Rant About the Hyphen

Dave Wilton links to a fine rant in The Atlantic about hyphens. (Yes, we care.)  And that link will get you to this one in Mental Floss about the difference between the em-dash and the en-dash.

Now I am careful to use the en-dash when separating ranges of numbers, such as an article being on pages 317–24 of a journal (although you can’t see the difference in this font), but how did I get through various writing and editing jobs without knowing about “the storied ‘compound adjective hyphen,’ an event so rare in the English language that proofreaders shiver with excitement whenever they come across it”?

Me with a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style always within reach. I am but an egg.

4 Comments

  1. Sarah says:

    So wait, are we to hyphenate or en-dash compound adjectives? I will lose sleep over this. Can we just get rid of the en-dash all together and call it a day?

    Still love the em-dash though. Easy to understand, more poignant than the comma and less insistent than the colon.

  2. Chas Clifton says:

    Hyphenate them if each term is a single word: “double-barreled shotgun” or “middle-class attitudes.”

    But now that you know the secret handshake, you use the en-dash if one term of the compound is itself two words. “post–World War II years” . . . unless the result would be typographically awkward. For example, “non-English-speaking peoples” would get hyphens all the way. (Unfortunately, the difference does not show up in this font, but it would in a serif font.)

    See Chicago Manual of Style 6.80. Now we know!

  3. Medeine Ragana says:

    Can’t believe they actually reference the word “interobang”! I remember learning of that in high school (showing my age here) and thought it was the neatest thing.

  4. T.L. says:

    It is always exciting to find a kenning (en dash): bone-house or whale-road. The dash actually lets you know it is a riddle.