Friday, October 12, 2007

Oxford slashes hyphens

The new edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary has done away with hyphens in about 16,000 words, reports Simon Rabinovitch for Reuters.
Bumble-bee is now bumblebee, ice-cream is ice cream and pot-belly is pot belly.

And if you've got a problem, don't be such a crybaby (formerly cry-baby).

The hyphen has been squeezed as informal ways of communicating, honed in text messages and emails, spread on Web sites and seep into newspapers and books.

"People are not confident about using hyphens anymore, they're not really sure what they are for," said Angus Stevenson, editor of the Shorter OED, the sixth edition of which was published this week.
There's comment on several sites, including from Russell Smith in the Canadian Globe and Mail, and, from Ben Zimmer on the Oxford University Press Blog.
Some compounds are in no danger of losing their hyphens. It’s hard to imagine the standard spelling of mother-in-law changing to mother in law or even more strangely motherinlaw (though there are no doubt some people somewhere who choose to spell it that way). And we seem to like using hyphens to set off certain prefixes like all-, ex-, quasi-, and self-, as in all-encompassing, ex-wife, quasi-legal, and self-esteem. Moreover, when it comes to prefixes, the hyphen is favored when the root word is capitalized (anti-American, pre-Christian) or when two vowels need to be separated (anti-intellectual, pre-eminent). But with prefixes too, there are no straightforward guidelines for when to hyphenate, and some hyphens simply fade over time as a word becomes more common. Yesterday’s post-modern is today’s postmodern.

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