Friday, October 20, 2006

Hyphens and Familial Pride

I just came across a reference to somebody's great, great grandson.

Further research showed that it was, in fact, a great-great-grandson who may or may not have been extremely wonderful.

In another comma-vs.-hyphen incident, I changed a headline from Controversial Ad Links MLK-GOP to Controversial Ad Links MLK, GOP, only to see something about an MLK, GOP Link in the Web hed on the same story. There's where the hyphen belonged.

To review, a comma can stand for "and" in a headline. The hyphen (or en dash, for publications that use the en dash) is the convention for a "between" link in an adjectival construction. Ali, Frazier Fight? They did indeed if you mean "fight" as a verb, but that fight (n.) was the Ali-Frazier Fight. (And so were the other two, though I suppose the first one was more properly the Frazier-Ali fight.)


DV said...

I think the third fight was called the "Thrilla in Manila." Would you refer to the first fight as "Ali-Frazier I"?

Bill said...

Right, once you have a series you'd stick with an order -- Ali-Frazier I, II, III. The first of many Fights of the Century, then the rematch notable mainly for that great "Wide World of Sports" intro sequence, and then the pre-christened Thrilla that managed to live up to its name. (I still think the first fight was the most thrilling.)

??.A.D. said...

Don't shoot me, but in Frasier–Ali, you actually need an en-dash. The hyphen only is used for words like en-dash, and with "pain-in-the-ass comments on your blog." In OSX, for those who don't know, press and hold your option key while punching the hyphen key, and you get the en-dash. In Windows, it's somewhere in that character set thingy. Sorry. Out.

??.A.D. said...

Doh! Blogger didn't recognize the en-dash HTML tag. Well, you get what I mean.

Joe Gahona said...

Why would you need an en dash in Frazier-Ali, unless you're also using their first names?

MuPu said...

Hi. I'm an armchair hyphenator -- not to be confused with an "arm-chair hyphenator" -- because I don't -- hyphenate that word, that is.

Hyphens and dashes are possibly the most misused -- and inconsistently applied -- punctuation marks in the English language. They're a real pain to reproduce electronically, because you never know what they're going to look like to the end user. So, for purposes of this post, pretend that you see what I'm describing, even though they're all hyphens. Also, be aware their usage is largely governed by style -- and not so much by grammar. My comments here are general -- and variations and exceptions will apply. Here are the major varieties:

Hyphen: This is the most common and versatile of the hyphen-dash family -- and the most widely used and understood. It's used to link compound nouns (secretary-treasurer, great-grandson) and compound modifiers (blue-green sea, one-two punch). It has literally -- yes, literally -- hundreds of uses. The most common is to, well, hyphenate a word that breaks at the end of a line. It also functions as an indicator of stuttering (I saw a g-g-ghost.). And as a device to indicate the letter-by-letter spelling of a word ("Pizzeria" is spelled p-i-z-z-e-r-i-a, not p-i-z-z-a-r-i-a.). And to make a "doer" out of an acronym or abbreviation (a total B.S.-er).

Two hyphens: In typewritten messages -- as well as in non-HTML e-mail messages -- two hyphens (sometimes with a space on either side, but never in between) represent an em dash (described next) or an informal colon -- or even a parenthesis. (Note the first single hyphen used in the previous sentence. It is sometimes used to attach a prefix to a word that begins with a capital letter. So, "The protest was un-American -- but nonpartisan -- in nature.")

Em dash: Em dashes (with or without a space on either side) can sometimes be used interchangeably with commas, colons, or parentheses. They're about twice the length of hyphens. They set off parenthetical material, either singly or in pairs. They often indicate an abrupt change in -- or interjection into -- the structure of a sentence. One such example is in the previous sentence. Another would be: "The editor called a special meeting -- which was fine, but the location -- that was the problem." You’ll find that newspapers and magazines usually insert a space on either side -- like this -- to prevent awkward breaks and spacing due to the narrow, justified, columnar format. I tend to use them -- regardless of the column width -- in most writing. Most books--which have longer lines of text and more "time" to adjust spacing--leave out the space before and after the em dash--as in this sentence. With a combination of wide and narrow and self-adjusting columns, Web sites can go either way. To cover all contingencies -- and, above all, for consistency -- spaces should be used for Internet material. Material cut and pasted from a Web site shouldn’t create an "unnecessary need" for it to be extensively reformatted.

Two-em dash: The two-em dash (with a space neither on either side, nor within) is probably the rarest of the genre. It is usually used to indicate missing letters in a word, normally after the first letter is given. It can be used to represent unknown letters, or to show that something is being hidden intentionally. Example: The map fragment found in the burned-out spaceship had us looking for "----vil’s Tow----," apparently located within a rectangular area known as "Wyom----."

Three-em dash: The three-em dash indicates that an entire word or phrase has been left out. This is used as a sort of fill-in-the-blank thing. It does not indicate that a sentence trailed off or was left uncompleted -- or incomplete -- or whatever. The information left out goes unspecified only because the answer to be supplied may vary from one person to another. Like this: "Hello! My name is ------." Using a blank would produce the same effect: "Hello! My name is ______."

En dash: The en dash is used in typeset material (without a space on either side -- well, usually -- to show ranges of numbers or dates -- and for some other things. It's about midway in length between a hyphen and an em dash. It may look awkward when you're aware of it and focusing on it, but it will grow on you. To the untrained eye, it just looks better at a subconscious level. Seasoned editors will look at it and say, "Oh, look, an en dash. This writer must be a real pro." I use en dashes when "hyphenating" all-caps heds -- or any all-caps combos (why not "combis"?) for that matter -- as in "an MLK-GOP Web link." En dashes also look great in 9-digit ZIP Codes™, in phone numbers, and in any string of numbers and/or capital letters.

I agree with Joe Gahona that Ali-Frazier should take a hyphen, and that the case would be different if one or both of the first names were thrown into the mix. The en dash is usually used to connect compounds when at least one of the two parts is itself a hyphenated-or-not compound. Some might argue that a hyphen should be converted to an en dash any time that it has a capital letter on either side of it, though -- which might be where aarva is coming from.

Maybe I should wrap this post up. If you want a little more detail, you can find my five-volume "Love Affair with the En Dash" at a library near you.

MuPu said...

It's the caffeine. I gotta stop writing stuff in the middle of the night.

ReluctantLeftist said...

I might be wrong about this, and I'm sure some people posting here can set me straight, but I seem to have a vague memory of reading about the following convention that can be used to decide between hyphens and en-dashes when joining two words.

To illustrate, if I called someone a "hat-wearing, anti-Eisenhower dog-kisser", I'd use hyphens, but if I said "I don't care about the apple-orange distinction or the Lax-Wendroff theorem", I'd use en-dashes. That's because in the first set of examples, you're joining two words where one modifies or acts on the other, whereas in the second set of examples, you're joining two words that are the same part of speech, and they're acting as "peers" or "parallels" to one another, in some sense.

I'm not necessarily saying this is a great convention, but I was just wondering if it seemed familiar to some of you. I remember proofreading a mathematics book and getting the impression from some folks in the mathematical typesetting community that "Smith-Chang theorem" should take an en-dash but "anti-inversive" should take a hyphen, for reasons similar to those I allude to above. Does this ring any bells for anyone, or was I just receiving nonstandard advice?

MuPu said...

I'll paraphrase from Volume 3, Chapter 62, of "En Dash":

The use of en dashes (not hyphenated, by the way) is a matter of style. Style books (and stylebooks) differ in their treatment of the various members of the "hyphen family" -- as they do in their treatment of lots of things. Your choice of style rules -- especially as they pertain to hyphens and hyphenoids -- should vary, depending on the type of material and the type of publication. (And if you're typesetting a book that has 500 hyphens and one en dash in it, then consider changing the en dash to a hyphen -- otherwise, it will look like it was a font error.) Semper gumbi -- "always flexible."

The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA), the standard style book of the behavioral sciences and of many other fields, would like for us to use the en dash "between words of equal weight in a compound adjective." I happen to think that's way too broad.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary uses a hyphen for its own name, even when it's written in all caps. (I often use the en dash as a "capital hyphen.") They even leave the "en dash" entry out of their paperback editions.

The Associated Press (AP) uses only em dashes (with a space on each side, except for agate) and hyphens. They change any en dashes to hyphens. (I've seen some newspapers change them to em dashes, which is just wrong.) The AP also sometimes uses em dashes as bullets.

I know of at least one paper that changes slashes to em dashes -- which is ridiculous. Most newspaper slashes can be replaced by hyphens or can be "written out of the script."

Your best bet is to get a feel for the range of usage for each of these little linking lines, and then pick out something that works for its intended use. Book publishers are the biggest consumers of hyphenized ens and ems. Look at a selection of books from various publishers -- and notice how they express page ranges and combinations like "post-Civil War-era migrations." If you check out what everybody's doing -- and why they're doing it -- you'll get a sense of what's right for your particular situation.

The thousands of em dashes (well, double hyphens) in my last two posts are for illustration purposes only. If you overdo it in real life, they look bad and read like speed bumps.

Don't get me started on minus signs (and negative symbols -- they're sometimes different), found in Volume 4, Chapters 35-108.