a little hyphen love

Just as the NYT style guide is slaying hyphens, Oxford Dictionaries offers a guide to when you ought to use ’em. (My favorite semi-obscure* use is the suspended hyphen, as in: “Renters may choose from a selection of two- and three-bedroom floor plans.”)


*Yes, I used a hyphen there.



Restrictive vs. nonrestrictive elements: what’s wrong with this picture?

Screen shot 2013-10-06 at 7.47.10 PM

Actually a kind of interesting article about Einstein’s corpus callosum (and did you know he died of a ruptured aneurysm?). But our business here is the comma. The ones around “Dean Falk” don’t belong. “Dean Falk” is restrictive/essential information here. There are (one presumes) plenty of evolutionary anthropologists (which also, btw, I wouldn’t cap, but maybe that’s The Las Vegas Guardian Express house style), and, therefore, “Dean Falk” is not parenthetical information. It is essential information to clarify which evolutionary anthropologist The Las Vegas Guardian Express is referring to.

Just a comma convention. No crimes have been committed here.

for want of a comma

That’s one hard-working goatee:

“It was Jim Lewis, a retired Navy officer with unkempt gray hair and a goatee who worked as Lacey’s assistant.”*

From the NYT


* Comma convention: sentence interruptors. Place a comma before and after parenthetical/nonessential/sentence-interrupting material. This seems an appropriate moment to mention that last Tuesday was National Punctuation Day. More on that presently.

Good advice for any writing, not just novels:

On the subject of escaping routine, think about what your novel’s going to give us that we couldn’t get anywhere else and make sure this is flagged up front. If it’s about a one-legged detective, let’s see him. If it’s about corruption in Guatemala, give us something corrupt and Guatemalan on the first page. It’s no time to be coy or subtle. At no point should a reader feel like they’re waiting for something – wondering, yes, but not waiting.

Oliver Harris in The Telegraph

The Yagoda maneuver

I use the phrase “busman’s holiday” surprisingly often, but it occurs to me every time that it’s possible that the person I’m talking with has no idea what I mean. I think I picked up the phrase from a Dorothy Sayer’s novel.

The phrase has not yet made it into Ben Yagoda’s Not One-Off Britishisms, which fact I’ll take as an indicator that the phrase isn’t in wide use by those of us who didn’t grow up reading Lord Peter Wimsey novels.

But look! Here is Mary Norris, just a few weeks ago, playing on the phrase (she was waiting for a bus and reading Ben Yagoda’s How Not to Write Bad—the latter of these activities being, for Mary Norris, a busman’s holiday of an endeavor).

Which leads us back around to Ben Yagoda: I know that you lie awake at night, wondering how, in Norris’s words, to “[trick] the computer into giving you an apostrophe, or single “close” quote, when it wants to use a single “open” quote, as in ’60.”

Well, here’s how—what Norris has dubbed “the Yagoda maneuver”: “He simply types another apostrophe after the incorrect one, which automatically faces in the right direction, and then goes back and deletes the wrong-facing one.”

So now you know.

A useful-punctuation post*

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(Macmillan Dictionary blog)

Someone asked me recently about one particular hyphen use—the suspended hyphen. Here’s an example of the suspended (a.k.a. “hanging” or “floating”) hyphen in use: “First- or second-year students may apply for parking spaces after October 1.” The suspended hyphen is employed for compound adjectives* preceding a noun when the compounds share the same second word, conveniently saving you from tedious repetition (“first-year or second-year”).

Grammar Girl has more on hyphens.


*The presence or absence of a hyphen can change the meaning of a phrase (or sometimes help avoid ambiguity): a “useful punctuation post” without the hyphen means a useful post about punctuation, whereas a “useful-punctuation post” means a post about useful punctuation. Grammar Monkeys has a regular “why we need hyphens” feature (“because an anti-child-abuse program is not the same as an anti-child abuse program”).