Thursday, September 27, 2007

Alas, Poor Hyphen! I Knew Him, Horatio ...

Pity the poor hyphen. Mis-used by so many, so often, for so long. Reuters informs us that some 16,000 words have lost their hyphens in the new edition of the Shorter Oxford Dictionary:

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.

Some of the 16,000 hyphenation changes in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, sixth edition:

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:










"Where be your gibes now? your gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment,
that were wont to set the table on a roar?" (Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, Act 5. Scene 1)