Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Man-eating catfish

Clear things up for me here, Old Hometown Newspaper. Should I go slow because none of the wake signs have been reinstalled, or should I go slow because a couple of "no wake" signs have been reinstalled?

Sure, you could mark the compound with a hyphen; indeed, that's probably the better choice here, since there doesn't appear to be room for quotes.* But you have to mark it somehow. Otherwise -- it being the Mighty Tar and all -- you risk having readers who can't tell a man eating catfish from a man-eating catfish.

The rules aren't here to insist that you hyphenate "ice-cream cone" and "high-school student." They're here to remind you that there really are differences in meaning that you can affect through the Miracle of Punctuation. Good writers are supposed to be able to tell the difference, but given that good writers are in short supply on the best of days, good editors are supposed to set an example for them.

* On the bright side, it appears that nobody at the OHTN tried to make it "go slowly."

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Go slow:" seems totally redundant to me, which would leave plenty of room for quotation marks.

1:40 AM, March 15, 2012  

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