Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Man eating blancmange

The hyphen was placed on earth so that fallen personkind, lost in the Forest of Sin, could tell the difference between a man eating blancmange and a man-eating blancmange. In other words, it's there to make meaning clear -- not just to show the slot you've wreaked some sort of damage on the copy that passes through your basket.

The cousins downtown have a few strange hyphen habits -- for instance, hyphenating preposed million or billion compounds, like the now-legendary "$8.4-million settlement." Most stylebooks consider that one unnecessary, because there's utterly no chance of confusion (unlike, say, "the 15 million-year-old fossils," which follows an AP style mandate into the Slough of Ambiguity). Too bad the Freep doesn't spend more time hyphenating for meaning:

Prosecutors and lawyers for Fieger and codefendant Vernon (Ven) Johnson spent the rest of Monday's hearings debating Fieger's vindictive prosecution claims.

Ideally, that sort of noun pileup wouldn't happen in the first place. But if it does, could the first responders give a little more weight to clarifying it?

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