Posts tagged with "punctuation" - Faerye Net 2005-02-17T16:53:30+00:00 Felicity Shoulders On the hyphen 2005-02-17T16:53:30+00:00 2010-10-26T22:46:11+00:00 <p>I would hesitate to name any punctuation mark more abused than the hyphen. Whilst the apostrophe, perhaps, is more widely, obviously, and painfully misused, the hyphen maintains its primacy in the department of pervasive subtle confusion. For while it is fairly simple to tell someone the apostrophe&#8217;s <em>proper</em> usage, and the explanation touches only on one or two of the eccentricities of our mother tongue, one finds oneself almost at a loss to explain in words what is wrong with someone&#8217;s hyphenation, or lack thereof. The hyphen is a magic symbol, able to transform nouns into adverbs and effortlessly merge two words into a chimaera. Its absence or misuse pulls subtly at the meaning of sentences, snatches clarity away, delays the mind, but does not leap up and trill &#8216;look at me, I&#8217;m wrooooooong!&#8217; like so many erring punctuation marks do. Or at least they do to me, and apparently to <a href="" target="links">Tycho</a>.</p> <p>I had very little formal training in punctuation. The only classes I can recall in it were a brief series of lessons on colons and semicolons and why we must <em>never again confuse the two thank you very much</em> in eighth grade. I very much wonder whether <em>anyone</em> gets formal training in punctuation these days, because my professional life seems often to consist of picking hyphens out of words and nestling them in between other ones. </p><p>Today I compiled several passages and blurbs written by several different people, and had to restandardize English in deciding which words were truly compound and which deserved hyphens. I can tell my new foes are going to be &#8216;on site&#8217;, &#8216;on-site&#8217;, and &#8216;onsite&#8217;; just as at my first permanent job they were &#8216;off topic&#8217;, &#8216;off-topic&#8217;, and &#8216;offtopic&#8217;. For some reason the same person will oscillate between these isoforms, let alone three or six different people! At my last job, every time I proofread a scientific paper I just about broke even on hyphens; pull about 13 out, plunk about 15 in. I would creep into the scientist&#8217;s offices and ask them detailed questions about their procedures and findings to determine the correct grammatical relationship of one biochemical word to another; and I would explain to them brightly why you really shouldn&#8217;t put a hyphen between an adverb and the verb it modifies. </p><p>My freshman year in high school I drew a picture of the three great gods of the Hindu pantheon. Brahma created, Shiva destroyed, and between, Lord Narayana, the great Vishnu, &#8216;maintaining and ordering&#8217; creation. Long was I stymied, for how does a mediocre artist portray the act of &#8216;maintaining and ordering&#8217; in a 3&#8243;&#215;4&#8243; space? Finally I drew him passing his hand over a jumble of lines, all the same length but jumbled in angle and distribution, crossing and leaning on each other in chaos. Where his blue hand had been, the lines appeared in tidy ranks, lined up like iron molecules in igneous rock. Sometimes, when I am up to my frontal lobes in hyphens, I remember that picture and feel that organizing short lines is <em>my</em> cosmic function!</p>