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Tilting at Windmills

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September 24, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

HY-PHENS....The good folks at the OED have decided to remove hyphens from 16,000 words. Reuters provides some examples:

Formerly hyphenated words split in two: fig leaf, hobby horse, ice cream, pin money, pot belly, test tube, water bed.

Formerly hyphenated words unified in one: bumblebee, chickpea, crybaby, leapfrog, logjam, lowlife, pigeonhole, touchline, waterborne.

"Ice cream" used to be hyphenated? Really? Was this a British thing? Even the New Yorker isn't pretentious enough to hyphenate "ice-cream," is it?

Kevin Drum 2:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (72)

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Comments

Retire the hyphen..with wraparound (no hyphen) text in word processors it's not needed at all.

Posted by: Mudge on September 24, 2007 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

I like to use hyphens to indicate modifier groupings. i.e.

man-hole cover vs man hole-cover

Posted by: MonkeyBoy on September 24, 2007 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

I still write "iced cream" and "iced tea" and "skimmed milk" and the like...

Posted by: Leisureguy on September 24, 2007 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

ice-cream?

what-the-fuck?

Posted by: Rob S. on September 24, 2007 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

I had no idea pigeonhole or leapfrog were considered by anybody to be two words. On another topic entirely, "pigeonhole" tops my lists of words that sounds dirty by aren't.

Posted by: Adam on September 24, 2007 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

The OED is certainly cutting-edge, isn't it? I can't wait to receive my up-to-date copy by first-class post. Maybe I'll even spring for air-mail shipping.

Posted by: Duncan Idaho on September 24, 2007 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

Retire the hyphen...with wraparound (no hyphen) text in word processors it's not needed at all.

These words weren't being hyphenated for purposes of line breaks. As MonkeyBoy says, hyphens are needed for modifiers.

But I don't know anyone who's ever hyphenated anything in that first list, and I've always made everything in the second list one word. Well, I guess I've said "chick pea" with a space, but no hyphen.

Posted by: shortstop on September 24, 2007 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

Let's take the language back to its Germanic roots and eliminate all hyphens and spaces in common (or even uncommon) multiword phrases. "Icecream" sounds good to me.

Posted by: alex on September 24, 2007 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, Kevin.

Rather humorous.

How can you tell the situation in Iraq is imporving? Answer: Kevin Dum-Dum has started posting irrelevant, light-hearted souflays in attempt to change the subject.

I love if!!!

Posted by: egbert on September 24, 2007 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

Now all we have to do is convince the New Yorker to retire it's absurd usage of the umlaut, which has no legitimate function in modern English. Coöperation, anyone? Stick that in yer pigeonhole!

Posted by: Rob Mac on September 24, 2007 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

>"Ice cream" used to be hyphenated? Really?

To-day and to-morrow used to be hyphenated (80-90 years ago), so it's not surprising that ice cream
was as well. Curious that they separated waterbed
instead of unifying it.

Posted by: Kerkira on September 24, 2007 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

MonkeyBoy,

Yeah, the hyphen has its uses, but strictly speaking, those modifier groupings take an en dash, which is longer than a hypen and shorter than an em dash: i.e., pre [en dash] Civil War, or the New York [en dash] Washington flight, and so on.

I like the story because it shows how language prescribers, at least in the English-speaking world, respond to ineluctable change around them. Change that their old rules can't keep at bay.

Posted by: paxr55 on September 24, 2007 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

I love if!!! -- egbert

I prefer when!!!

Yes, cultural posts on Political Animal is an awesome metric of how well the Iraq war is going! Another might be a drop in the number of voices in your head telling you to do bad, naughty things.

Posted by: cheney's third nipple on September 24, 2007 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

I think everyone else de-hyphenated (tee hee) ice cream, and they just think they're the ones doing it.

As for the other ones in the list- please, no, don't de-hyphenate them!!

Posted by: Swan on September 24, 2007 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

Ahem.

It's The New Yorker, not the New Yorker.

Ahem.

Posted by: bleh on September 24, 2007 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

A "hobby horse" sounds like a horse or model horse that you just have for a hobby.

A hobby-horse on the other hand is a thing.

Posted by: Swan on September 24, 2007 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

My Webster's hyphenates ice cream as a modifier.

Posted by: the spook on September 24, 2007 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

I think the OED is being edited by Mr. Burns:
(to Smithers) I feel like such a free spirit! And I'm really enjoying this so-called 'iced cream.'"

I just love Mr. Burns' inability to use modern words and phrasing. The best is his request at the post office:
Mr. Burns: I need this package shipped to the Prussian consulate in Siam, post-haste. Is it too late the 4:30 autogyro?
Kid at counter: Uh, this book must be outdated. I don't see 'Prussia,' 'Siam,' or 'autogyro' in here.

Posted by: anonymous on September 24, 2007 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, garbanzobeans.

Posted by: Frank on September 24, 2007 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

I'm sure the literary community will be rocked by the scandalous de-hyphenation of "pin-money". Didn't that word/phrase go out with Flappers & the Charleston?

I was more surprised that bumblebee used to be hyphenated, as opposed to ice-cream. Actually, didn't ice-cream start out as iced cream (with no hyphen)?

Posted by: raff on September 24, 2007 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

Do they have a ruling on dickhead?

Posted by: craigie on September 24, 2007 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I guess I've said "chick pea" with a space, but no hyphen.

Does this come up a lot in your writing? :-P

Posted by: craigie on September 24, 2007 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

"water bed"? I've never seen it hyphenated in the first place, and everyone I know uses it as one word - waterbed. Google backs me up, with a nearly 3 to 1 ratio of waterbed to "water bed"

Posted by: tavella on September 24, 2007 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

Is Bush a fuck-tard, fuck tard, or fucktard?
Is Cheney ass-hole, ass hole, or asshole?

Posted by: jerry on September 24, 2007 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK
"Ice cream" used to be hyphenated? Really?

At least as a compound adjective (M-W still has it that way in their online dictionary), sure. Reuters isn't really clear about what the specific change is that affects "ice cream"; it may have been hyphenated as a noun in at least some English-speaking places.

Was this a British thing?

Perhaps; but, again, the English language isn't split between just the UK and the US.


Even the New Yorker isn't pretentious enough to hyphenate "ice-cream," is it?

Since when is hyphenation pretentious?

Posted by: cmdicely on September 24, 2007 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK
I like the story because it shows how language prescribers, at least in the English-speaking world, respond to ineluctable change around them.

Since when is the OED's approach prescriptive rather than descriptive?

Posted by: cmdicely on September 24, 2007 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

Does this come up a lot in your writing? :-P

It comes up a lot in my cooking and recipe exchange, Mr. Sassy Mouth. I make Middle Eastern food a lot.

I just love Mr. Burns' inability to use modern words and phrasing.

Me, too. I occasionally get a whiff of Montgomery Burns off our own American lion, Norman Rogers.

Posted by: shortstop on September 24, 2007 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

rob mac says that the umlaut has no legitimate use in English.

How about in the names of heavy-metal bands? Huh?!?

Posted by: Bob on September 24, 2007 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

hhhmmmmmmm


INK-BLOT FOR PRES-I-DENT!

Posted by: optical weenie on September 24, 2007 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

But what I really have to know is: Does "anal(-)retentive" still have a hyphen in it?

Posted by: Neil B. on September 24, 2007 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

shortstop: "I occasionally get a whiff of Montgomery Burns off our own American lion, Norman Rogers."

So that's where that smell comes from! I always thought it was the sewer line backing up ...

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on September 24, 2007 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

hey, lay off The New Yorker - pretentiously well-copy-edited they may be

(did I hyphenate that right?),

but, aside from George Packer's delusions, they have, week in and week out, some of the best writing int he country. Seymour Hersh. Hendrik Hertzberg. Jon Lee Anderson. Roger Angell. Anthony Lane.

Feel free, however, to use William Safire as a grammatical punching bag.

Posted by: mldostert on September 24, 2007 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

First, the umlaut. it may seem pretentious, and you may not care to use it, but it does (or did) serve the function of separating the pronunciation of adjoining vowels, so that cooperation is pronounced co-operation rather than coop-eration.

Second, and this one is for the moron who styles him self egbert, what the hell is a "souflay"? Can you mean "soufflé", jackass?

My personal favorite among British pretentions in writing is the addition of certain extra vowels derived from the Latin, such as "aesophagus" and, in the most ironic reflexive of them all, "praetentious," a word that is like a striptease, in that it actually reveals itself as you read it. Incidentally, that extra vowel is often squashed up against its primary vowel and the resulting combination has a name, but I'm damned if I remember what it is. Anyone?

Posted by: jprichva on September 24, 2007 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

I think they got it right in which they made two words and which they made one.

And I'm glad to see active descriptivism in dictionaries.

mldostert: well-copy-edited

(did I hyphenate that right?),

Almost: "well copy-edited." "Well" is an adverb modifying the adjectival phrase "copy-edited." The hyphen separates the noun used as an adjective and the word it modifies.

Posted by: anandine on September 24, 2007 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

So that's where that smell comes from! I always thought it was the sewer line backing up ...

Well, alo-ha-ha-ha. Although he was insolently attacking his better, Duke Paoa Kahanamokluless here has inadvertently hit upon the biggest frustration of my weekend: the sewer line on my estate backed up again. Of course it's the gardener's cottage that started it all--the man has a minimum of 22 relatives stashed in there. I normally don't mind; his knowing that I know this keeps his weekly pay packet well below minimum wage, and I am a sucker for masa harina made the old-fashioned way.

But yesterday when the stench reached the big house, I knew something had to be done. The plumber who took care of it demanded Sunday rates despite conceding that, before my call, he'd been doing nothing but watch the Patriots game while stuffing large handfuls of cheesy snack foods into his maw. I saw the orange powder still on his hands when he arrived.

Eventually we arrived at the compromise of my paying him $100 less than I owed him. I have found through years of testing these payment formulas that this amount is not quite enough to inspire a tradesman to go to small-claims court, but is large enough to assert my natural authority. You liberals would do well to emulate time-tested business practices like this, but no one can ever tell you people anything.

Posted by: Norman Rogers on September 24, 2007 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

egsmell: "How can you tell the situation in Iraq is imporving?"

Yes, it's definitely imporving! Along with your slepping.
Have you ever considered that whole getting-a-life thing?

Posted by: Kenji on September 24, 2007 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, my cousin worked your plumbing job, Normie. Said it was the manufactored house in the trailor park, up on a little hill created by the closed land-fill, over-looking the waste-water pond.
Said the back-up was caused by too high a volume of waste material for the standard system to handle, figured your "mansion" could use that new 3500 gallon Super-Septic, hi-tec disposal system for high-volume crappers. Sells quite a few to the finer Republican house-holds.
Give it a consideration, that and going green on your toilet-paper.

Posted by: Zit on September 24, 2007 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK

We or our clients in Israel are getting ready to bomb Iran and you're worrying about effing hyphens!? Or did you say hymens?

Posted by: Rula Lenska on September 24, 2007 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

@egbert: Surely, surely, you mean lighthearted? The latest and most egregious of your errors...

Posted by: Mithras The Prophet on September 24, 2007 at 6:12 PM | PERMALINK

Since when is the OED's approach prescriptive rather than descriptive?--cmdicely

You're right. Was typing on the fly. That's why I love the OED, btw: its descriptivism, including dates for earliest use and so on and examples of use in literature.

Posted by: paxr55 on September 24, 2007 at 6:24 PM | PERMALINK

Souflay is beaten, not stirred, by wingnuts.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on September 24, 2007 at 6:49 PM | PERMALINK

No more hyphens - Now, I can just type FAUX lib. So liberating.

Posted by: stupid git on September 24, 2007 at 6:54 PM | PERMALINK

I make Middle Eastern food a lot.

Aha! I knew you were an Enemy of Freedom (tm)!

Posted by: craigie on September 24, 2007 at 7:18 PM | PERMALINK

craigie,

Don't say anything about her starting her prep for Far Eastern cooking and morphing - Understand her Szechwan Cous Cous is spectacular.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on September 24, 2007 at 7:25 PM | PERMALINK

souflay.
ROFL

tell me, eggy-boy...your folks met on the short-bus didn't they?

Posted by: Cognitive Dissident on September 24, 2007 at 7:58 PM | PERMALINK

Hobby-horse is hyphenated. Potbelly and waterbed are one word. The rest of the spellings shown are just as they're supposed to be, and as they have been for some time. (And "some time" is two separate words when used this way. "'Sometimes I like to go away for some time,' said a sometime sailor." ..."Sometime sailor" might be hyphenated; I don't care.)

Most people don't understand that for many words the hyphen is just no more. You'll need to consult with me a on a case-by-case basis.

Posted by: Anon on September 24, 2007 at 10:07 PM | PERMALINK

I come across old movie titles quite a bit, and was reminded that in the 1920s in the US "Today" was "To-day" (I even remember still seeing that in the 1960s) and "Correspondant" was "Co-Respondant" (with a capital R)

Posted by: hopeless pedant on September 24, 2007 at 10:37 PM | PERMALINK

correspondent
co-respondent

I had to...no personal slight intended.

Posted by: hopelessly pedantic shortstop on September 25, 2007 at 12:00 AM | PERMALINK

Lmao, these councils are always made up of idiots who think they can control a language, or determine what words are words. Really though, that's up the entire population that speaks that language to determine, not a group of doddering fools. If people use it as a word, and it has a generally known meaning, it is a word. Nobody has hyphenated Ice Cream in decades. This ruling wont change anything at all.

Posted by: Soullite on September 25, 2007 at 12:30 AM | PERMALINK

Get a life folks.

The OED is BRITISH English. Got nothing to do we us Americans.

Posted by: Lucy B on September 25, 2007 at 1:04 AM | PERMALINK

These are words that your spellchecker wants to hyphenate but that haven't typically been hyphenated in common usage for years. Fund-raiser is one I used to run up against all the time.

Generally, British English hyphenates the same words Am. English does. It's the spelling and usage that are different.

The general trend is for word combos to begin as two separate words "to night" then to be hyphenated "to-night" and then to become one: "tonight". You'll still run across a word like tonight hyphenated in old books.

In other words, this isn't news.

Posted by: KathyF on September 25, 2007 at 1:30 AM | PERMALINK

I dunno, in my experience at least half the flash cards I hold up for Taiwanese kindergarteners trying to learn English say "ice-cream".

Posted by: MikeN on September 25, 2007 at 2:12 AM | PERMALINK

The Business Communications book I am teaching from uses accents over both e's in Resume. This bothers me more than it should.

Posted by: mcdruid on September 25, 2007 at 2:35 AM | PERMALINK

Soullite, there is a back-and-forth between what the population uses as a whole and what various dictionaries say is correct. Each influences the other; for example, we have "color" in AE and "colour" in BE largely thanks to Noah Webster and his "An American Dictionary of the English Language of 1828." Certainly the language is defined by usage, but references like dictionaries help us learn the basics of that usage in the first place.

Posted by: josephdietrich on September 25, 2007 at 3:43 AM | PERMALINK

New York used to be hyphenated - New-York - as you can see in this image of the obituary of Alexander Hamilton from the New-York Evening Post, which he founded:

http://duel2004.weehawkenhistory.org/hamobit.pdf

Posted by: Bloix on September 25, 2007 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

Well,The New Yorker is actually pretentious enough to hyphenate Kevin-Drum.

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