Hyphenated Copy Editor 

Rosie Right

If Rosie had been asked 20 years ago what would occupy her in her old age, hyphens would not have been remotely in the running. But here we are, and a portion of Rosie's time is spent in deciding whether or not to add a hyphen to a sentence to make it more comprehensible or graceful.

For this reason, it was interesting to see in the latest issue of the newsletter Copy Editor an article titled "Where Have All the Hyphens Gone?" The newsletter gave some wonderful examples of statements that truly needed hyphens:"The wild animal trainer""a third place kicker""40 girl group greats" ("[H]ow many singing groups include exactly 40 girls?," the newsletter asks. "Try '40 girl-group greats.'")

Here are the three hard-and-fast rules Copy Editor tells us to keep in mind:"Avoid hyphens after '-ly' adverbs.""Insert hyphens to avoid awkward doubled vowels." Examples: anti-inflation and anti-intellectual.

"Use hyphens to avoid ambiguity." Example: "a bad weather forecast."

It would be fine if these three rules were all that an editor or writer had to remember, but the AP Style Book goes into greater detail, telling us to use hyphens for compound modifiers; with two-thought compounds such as serio-comic; and to indicate dual heritage, as in Italian -American and Mexican-American but not, for some reason in, French Canadian.

This last stricture might seem to be helpful — if it could be understood — but Bill Walsh, copy-desk chief of the business desk at the Washington Post, writes in his book "Lapsing Into a Comma":

"Use a hyphen in African-American, Asian-American, Irish-American and most other terms of dual ancestry or citizenship.

"Latin American and American Indian are obvious exceptions; French Canadian is a not-so-obvious one but one that should be followed because of widespread usage. It means 'Canadian of French descent' only indirectly, referring most immediately to French-speaking Canadians. It has become politically correct in recent years to drop the hyphens in such terms, on the theory that the phrase hyphenated Americans is somehow an insult. If the hyphen is insulting, I suppose in 10 years the space between the words will be seen as blood libel and we'll end up writing Italianamerican. Stay tuned."

Maybe, after all, it's not an act of serious insanity to worry about how to use hyphens.

Let Rosie hear from you by telephone (358-0825), letter (1707 Summit Ave, Suite 201, Richmond Va. 23230), fax (355-9089) or e-mail repps@styleweekly.com

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