Hyphen Hysterics

Compound nouns : Hyphen Hysterics

Compound nouns : Hyphen Hysterics

What do these words have in common? Well, they’re all compound nouns : two words that join together to form another word. There are many of these in English. In some cases, the two words join together to form one word (tooth + paste = toothpaste); in other cases, they are joined by a hyphen (ski + boot = ski-boot), and in some cases they remain separate, even though they refer to a single unit (ice + cream = ice cream).
Of course, as with most things regarding the English language, there are no fixed rules. Take the case of the word “e-mail” (or should we say “email”).
There seems to be no agreement on how to write it. The BBC and the New York Times both write it with a hyphen (e-mail), but most of the rest of the world prefers it without the hyphen (email). And there are always lots of inconsistencies. For example, the term “African American” contains no hyphen, whereas “Italian-American” does.
According to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the hyphen is being used less and less. And as a result, for their latest dictionary, they have taken the hyphen out of 16,000 words, many of them two-word compound nouns. So, “fig-leaf” is now “fig leaf”, and “potbelly” is now “pot belly”. However, “pigeon-hole” and “leap-frog” are just one word now, “pigeonhole” and “leapfrog”.
As a spokesperson for the dictionary said, “We only reflect what people in general are reading. We have been tracking this for some time and we’ve been finding the hyphen is used less and less.”
However, others want to defend the use of the hyphen. “The hyphen is there to help the reader, and to show either that two words are linked in some significant way, or to add understanding in words such as “go-between”,” a linguist explained.


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