Today's topics are compound words, hyphens and readers' suggestions for words to be banished.
Hyphens, tiny little marks designed to add clarity, too often confound writers.
Mark Nichol, writing for dailywritingtips.com, an appropriately named website that also sends out daily tips by email, explained something that has long confused me. He stated that, "The natural progression for styling compound words is open to closed, often (but not always) with a hyphenated form as an interim phase. No ruling body authorizes the transformation, and no pattern or logic regarding the time frame applies from one compound to another. Some compounds stubbornly resist closing (real estate) or cling to their hyphens (mind-set), but closure is almost invariably inevitable."
He added that he has reluctantly moved from Web site to website. In advising his readers on how to decide which style to use, he suggested considering the audience. He believes that general purpose publications would be more likely to choose two words or hyphenate them (screen saver) while high-tech publications would opt for closing them (screensaver). This is the blessing of style guides, such as The Associated Press Stylebook, and of always keeping in mind your audience.
In other ways, hyphens can aid clarity when we write. If I write "Meridian is Idaho's fastest-growing town," you may disagree with the statistic, but you will know I am describing how fast the town is growing, not its speed. By figuring out the noun being described, it's easier to decide what to hyphenate.
Sometimes, however, it isn't clear whether an adjective is modifying the word that follows it or if it should be combined with the previous adjective to modify the noun. (Dirty blonde hair; five odd members.) When there's a chance for confusion (or humor), a hyphen can help: "She screeched when she saw the red-speckled snake." "The corporation mandated new hand washing rules reduced productivity." A little hyphenation would help: "The corporation-mandated new hand-washing rules reduced productivity." Changing the sentence would also work: "New hand-washing rules mandated by the corporation reduced productivity." Rewording also reduces the number of hyphens.
Some compound adjective phrases are so common that there's little risk of confusion: high school student, carbon monoxide fumes. You may choose, always considering the audience. However, should the adjectives follow the noun, you should not use a hyphen. "It's a 10-week class," but "The class is 10 weeks."
And now for the readers' suggestions for banishment.
Roy Heberger wants to banish, particularly from broadcasters' vocabularies, tired phrases such as "at the end of the day," and "be that as it may."
Tony Hansen hopes to see less of "moving forward," "going forward," "OMG," and the phrase, "where you at?"
A visiting reader from Missouri dislikes the mispronunciation of the word supposedly as "supposably," and pronouncing the word nuclear as "nuke-you-ler."
Fritz Dixon writes that he's long wished for a software program that would delete every adjective in news pieces, because he thinks they are crutches for reporters. I confess I find myself grabbing those crutches all too often.
David Holm wrote in December, reminding us to always take that extra moment to read what we write before hitting "send" or "enter." That's a moment not taken I've too often regretted.
Thanks for your wonderful suggestions. Keep them coming and I'll keep reporting them.