This is a follow-up to my previous post about hyphens. Today I’m going to teach you a hyphen rule that used to scare me. When I finally calmed down, I discovered it’s not hard at all.
I’m also going to explain why hyphens tend to disappear – and why I think that’s good news. And – as a bonus – I’m going to update you about some changes in hyphen usage.
1. Let’s start with the hyphen rule. I’m going to use open door as an example:
The thief entered through the open door.
No hyphen. But if you put a noun after open door, you need a hyphen:
I’m grateful that my supervisor has an open-door policy.
My husband delights in finding hyphen mistakes when I type his columns. But he’s not nearly so happy when I point out that the alleged mistake was actually correct.
Here’s a typical conversation:
Charlie: I found a typing mistake. You didn’t put hyphens in the flowers are red and white. But in the next paragraph you have red-and-white flowers.
Me: The second time, red-and-white is followed by a noun: red-and-white flowers.
Charlie: (grinds his teeth).
2. Hyphens tend to disappear over time.
If you enjoy reading vintage novels, you’ll often see to-night, week-end, and other ordinary words with what seem to be unnecessary hyphens. There’s a common-sense feeling among English speakers that if you know the word, why the heck should you bother with the hyphen? Begone! (I suspect that some people also share my feeling that hyphens are ugly.)
3. And that brings us to the 2019 American Copy Editors Society Conference. You can read Mary Norris’ terrific article about it here: Dropped Hyphens, Split Infinitives, and Other Thrilling Developments from the 2019 American Copy Editors Society Conference
The Associated Press has made some changes in their policies about hyphens. Because many newspapers and magazines use AP Style, there will be far-reaching impact. Here are two of them:
- Hyphens will be dropped in racial and ethnic identifiers: now it’s African American, Swedish American.
Henry Fuhrmann, formerly the copy chief of the L.A. Times, wrote, “Those hyphens serve to divide even as they are meant to connect. Their use in racial and ethnic identifiers can connote an otherness, a sense that people of color are somehow not full citizens or fully American.”
- Hyphens will be dropped from compounds like “third-grade teacher” and “chocolate-chip cookie.” Mary Norris explained, “Because there is no danger in mistaking which two words go together (it’s not ‘gradeteacher’ or ‘chipcookie’), the extra mark is unnecessary.”