Saturday, June 24, 2006

An Area Opportunity

I watch HGTV and I hear of "the living-room area" and "the dining-room area" instead of the living room and the dining room. I watch tennis coverage and I hear of "break-point opportunities" instead of break points. I think the turning of nouns into modifiers to clear the way for superfluous nouns says something about how we're afraid to just come out and say anything. (Or whatever.) But I also see an opportunity for a riff.

The living room is an area. It's an area known as the living room. But a living room cannot be a living-room area.

"Living-room area" would make perfect sense in a reference to an area being used as a living room in a dwelling that doesn't have rooms as such -- a loft, or perhaps an RV. "Living-room area" would make perfect sense in a reference in a reference to the living room and some adjacent real estate. But if you mean "living room," say "living room."

The D.C. area is an area known as Washington, D.C., or just D.C. But Washington, D.C., cannot be the D.C. area.

"D.C. area" makes perfect sense in a reference to Washington and the adjacent region. But if you mean Washington, D.C., say "Washington, D.C."

A break point is an opportunity. But a break point cannot be a break-point opportunity.

Insofar as a break point could be called a break opportunity (you win this point and you break serve, meaning you win a game when you're not serving), "break-point opportunity" could be viewed not as redundant, but as a way of saying "opportunity to get to a break point." At 30-40 the receiver is at break point, with a break opportunity, so then perhaps at love-30 or 15-30 or 30-all the receiver has a break-point opportunity.

To review: If redundancy and wordiness don't bother you all that much, go ahead and say "living-room area" when you mean living room. But "break-point opportunity" is ambiguous. Even if you scoff at "Omit needless words" (as I sometimes do), there's a word there that is begging to be omitted.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Tiny Acts of Elegance

The hyphenation or non-hyphenation of compound modifiers is a frequent topic among copy editors, and I discuss it as eagerly as anybody. What we sometimes lose sight of, though, is whether the compound modifier really needs to be a compound modifier.

I've jotted these phrases down over the past month or two: his global warming policy . . . the ocean science and fisheries professor . . . next month's whaling commission meeting . . . a northwestern Louisiana youth shelter . . . negligent homicide charges.

There's nothing particularly confusing in those constructions (though I would ask why we're calling the homicide charges negligent), but aren't they ugly? A hyphen would eliminate the inappropriate allegation of negligence, and I'd also hyphenate global-warming policy, but whaling-commission meeting, ocean-science-and-fisheries professor and especially northwestern-Louisiana youth shelter would look pretty weird even to a dedicated hyphenator like me.

But why not dedicate a few crumbs of paper and drops of ink to writing prose and not lines from a telegram? Why not his policy on global warming and the professor of ocean science and fisheries and next month's meeting of the whaling commission and a youth shelter in northwestern Louisiana? Keep the telegram method in your back pocket when a draconian trim is needed, but don't make it a first resort.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Hyphen Shortages

For those who have missed my rants about anti-child abuse programs, Banterist offers an excellent illustration of the one-hyphen-short error.