Is the hyphen unattractive?

soidjte's picture

The newest edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary boasts some 16,000 changes, all pertaining to the hyphen. It has either been omitted and the words left as two separate entities (ice cream), or the two words have been joined into one (pigeonhole). The AP is running a story which blames the internet and cell phones; and modern design.

"Another factor in the hyphen's demise is designers' distaste for its ungainly horizontal bulk between words."

So what do you think, typophiles? Is the hyphen dated and unattractive or just misunderstood by an eager-to-communicate generation?

The AP story can be found here.

Quincunx's picture

I never understand why hyphens (and thus hyphenation) are found to be so ugly or bad.
I have no problem with hyphens and hyphenation in texts, in my eyes they are not unattractive.

eliason's picture

I remember learning from Strunk and White's Elements of Style that "the steady evolution of the language seems to favor union: two words eventually become one, usually after a period of hyphenation."

As for the rejection of the hyphen on aesthetic grounds, I started a thread to disprove that a while ago!

oldnick's picture

The hyphen is not likely to go out of fashion when used as you thoughtfully illustrated with "eager-to-communicate generation." That is, hyphenating is an accepted (and, some would argue, requisite) method of identifying a group of words--one or more of which is not an adjective--used as a group adjectivally.

eliason's picture

By the way, I don't think changes to the way we might communicate nearly obsolete terms like "pin money" and "hobby horse" can be pinned on the internet & celphone generation...

blank's picture

I tend to agree with the thinkers at Oxford on this one. Hyphenates were a fashion that failed to stick, and hanging on to them can be pretentious.

I also agree with Nick—hyphenated phrases are a good way to identify words used as a group adjectivally. They’re especially useful for making hasty internet communication more comprehensible.

timd's picture

A hyphen might not qualify as a pigeonhole*, reports of its death are premature, still used for compound adjectives and it has migrated. The second thing I do when preparing a text provided by an author for setting is to search and replace spacehyphenspace to spaceenspace (I know this a British use, presumably something similar is required to accommodate other uses); the first is to replace double word spaces. The main concern for designers is, I believe, the other use of hyphens – to break a word over two lines and to avoid ladders.

*5. Typogr. An excessively wide space between two words. Now rare.

1683 J. MOXON Mech. Exercises: Printing xxii. 4 These wide Whites are by Compositers (in way of Scandal) call'd Pidgeon-holes. 1688 R. HOLME Acad. Armory III. iii. 123/2 Pidgeon Holes, when whites between words are as great [as], or greater then between line and line. 1755 J. SMITH Printer's Gram. 113 [Too] many Blanks of m-quadrats will be contemptuously called Pigeon-holes. 1841 W. SAVAGE Dict. Art Printing 590 s.v., Pigeon holes,..The only instances in which they are tolerated are when a page is small, and the type is large in proportion to it. 1876 Printers' Reg. 7 Aug. 28/1 Sometimes great ‘holes’, or ‘pigeon holes’ as they are called, are seen between the words of a newspaper paragraph, but how unsightly they are. 1904 T. L. DE VINNE Mod. Methods Bk. Composition 89 Spacing too wide produces ‘pigeonholes’ between words. 1970 R. K. KENT Lang. Journalism 102 Pigeonhole, too wide a space between printed words: several of them falling nearly under each other in successive lines may cause a river.

Craig, your link doesn’t work for me.

James, were they ever a fashion?


bieler's picture

Hyphenation dates back far, far before the beginning of mechanical type in the mid-15th century. It can hardly be called a "fashion." More like a fundamental in correct typesetting.


eliason's picture

2nd try at link to thread.

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