AP Changes Hyphen Guidance.

And (spoiler!) not for the better. Kyle Koster of thebiglead reports on a change in the AP Stylebook:

Apparently, the long-standing practice of inserting a hyphen in a compound modifier was re-examined and deemed unnecessary if the modifier is “commonly recognized as one phrase, and if the meaning is clean and unambiguous without the hyphen.” So say goodbye to first-half run and hello to first half run. One looks objectively worse than the other, but apparently the Associated Press is fine with this. […]

This is all probably small potatoes to the reader. But hyphenating words when they need to be hyphenated is a habit that will be impossible for journalists of a certain age to stop doing. And that’s a good thing because the presence or absence of them is one of the clearest indicators of the quality of writing and editing for a given piece.

Via MetaFilter, where amid the inevitable snark there is some good commentary:

IMO hyphens in stock phrases used as modifiers just makes it a little easier to read, because you don’t have to even consider the other ways of grouping things to decide whether it’s ambiguous. So neither “first half-marathon” vs “first-half touchdown” is really ambiguous if you know the subject, but if there’s hyphens you can parse it correctly without having to know or access that information. [posted by aubilenon]

Why? What is the reason they decided this was a thing to do? Were there legions of copyeditors sick of popping in the dropped hyphens of lazy writers? Did the price of ink go up? [posted by Jon_Evil]

It seems to me that the big problem for writers and copy editors here is that before the rule was clear and unambiguous: all compound modifiers get hyphens. Now you have to make a judgment call on each one as to whether a) it’s a commonly recognized phrase and b) whether the meaning is clear and unambiguous. [posted by jahaza]

Seriously, I have no idea what the benefit of this is aside from saving ink, which is mostly electronic these days anyway. I try not to be too curmudgeonly, but I feel obliged to wave my cane. Compound-modifier hyphens forever!

Comments

  1. David Eddyshaw says

    This is just too thymotic.

  2. Indeed.

  3. Another case where they should have thimked. (Thmought?)

  4. Thoɯght

  5. Why hyphenate when you can concatenate and save both ink *and* space?

  6. The new rule seems to be a bad case of Omit Needless Punctuation.

    “redundant” does not imply “superfluous”.

  7. John Cowan says

    Scriptio continua has its problems. Does collectamexiliopubem mean collectam ex Ilio pubem ‘a group gathered from Troy’, or collectam exilio pubem ‘a group gathered for exile’? In poetry, such things can be useful; in prose, not so much.

  8. David Marjanović says

    This means the AP is going descriptivist. The vast majority of people who type in English seem unable to even find the hyphen on their keyboards, and use spaces instead. When I review manuscripts, I always recommend adding several hyphens to avoid tripping the readers up – and still refrain from recommending as many as I would like.

  9. This means the AP is going descriptivist.

    Which destroys the entire point of a style guide. Might as well reduce it to one line: “Write what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”

  10. John Cowan says

    That is indeed the right thing, provided you don’t confuse “what Thou Wilt” with “whatever the hell you feel like doing”. Crowley understood the distinction in theory but had troubles with practice, as we all do.

  11. Even twenty years ago, when I was regularly looking at stuff coming over the AP wire, their writers were not systematically hyphenating compound modifiers, except when it seemed to provide a significant improvement in comprehensibility. So this appears to just be moving to prescribing what their writers had already been doing for a very long time.

  12. Ah, that makes sense then. But I still don’t like it.

  13. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    The vast majority of people who type in English seem unable to even find the hyphen on their keyboards, and use spaces instead.

    How true! They mostly see no difference between a hyphen, an en dash and an em dash, especially important for the hyphen (used for connecting things that would otherwise be separate) and the em dash (used for separating things that would otherwise be together). I could add the minus sign to this list, except that, depending on the typeface, it is often indistinguishable from an en dash apart from the spacing.

  14. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    After skimming through the post before reading it, my initial thought was what’s a half run? Maybe some baseball term that I haven’t met before?

  15. David Marjanović says

    They mostly see no difference between

    That, too. Here the reason is clear, though: people can’t find dashes on their keyboards because they simply aren’t there, for the historical reason that typewriters used monospace fonts where it’s hard or impossible to render hyphens and dashes differently in the first place. Add the perfidious English practice of not putting spaces around dashes—and I routinely stumble over the results (not really over dashes-and, but ambiguous and outright misleading cases do occur, of course).

    But that’s a separate and additional problem, not the same as the half run.

    Edit: actually, they may well be facets of a more general problem, together with punctuation issues (commas are important people!): it seems to me that it has never occurred to scarily many people that there are (crude) ways of writing intonation, and that this is sometimes necessary to disambiguate otherwise identical utterances.

  16. In a monospaced font, of course, a hyphen, N-dash, and M-dash are literally the same thing. For this reason, there are a variety of terms (such as “grammar dash” or “separator dash”) to denote the punctuation element that is rendered as an M-dash in variable-pitched fonts and as “--” in typewriter fonts.

    It is, naturally, common in typography for there to be different names for a particular glyph versus what it represents. I don’t know how many times I have explained to my students who are learning to write vector calculus expressions in LaTeX that the upside-down triangle symbol is called the “nabla,” while the operator it represents is “del.”

  17. In a monospaced font, of course, a hyphen, N-dash, and M-dash are literally the same thing.

    Not necessarily, in which case the hyphen is shorter with more space, to David Marjanović’s chagrin.

  18. and the em dash (used for separating things that would otherwise be together)

    I think you mean the en dash, although I’m not sure what you mean by “separating things that would otherwise be together.”

  19. In Noto Mono, the monowidth font I use, Unicode hyphen (‐) is the shortest, followed by ASCII hyphen-minus (-), followed by en dash (–) followed by em dash (—); the last is as wide as its cell, so that consecutive em dashes merge visually. The horizontal bar (―), which is the official character for using before dialogue lines, looks like the em dash, and the two-em and three-em dash don’t have glyphs. Finally, the mathematical minus sign (−) looks like the en dash, but is higher. YMMV, of course.

  20. the perfidious English practice of not putting spaces around dashes—and

    I think of this as American – though you may mean English-language, David. If I’m writing to someone in Britain, I use – this sort of thing – but to Americans, I–sometimes, at least–do it like that, because I kind of like the extremely long M dash in the New Yorker (seems like it’s long, I hasten to say, I expect it’s my imagination).

    There’s no special minus sign on a Norwegian Mac keyboard not that I’d ever need it if there were.

  21. American practice is not uniform either: AP style mandates spaces; Chicago style prohibits them. I always use them myself.

  22. There’s no special minus sign on a Norwegian Mac keyboard not that I’d ever need it if there were.

    Because you’re a positive thinker.

  23. I see merit in asymmetric spacing of em dashes –like this– so that –like this again– they act more like parentheses, and you can easily tell the main from the aside when there are lots in a single sentence.

  24. In my long-ago* days of copy-editing* I was taught a complex system of when to use a hyphen and when to use an en-dash*, which I never fully understood and have mercifully forgotten.

    *these are all hyphens, right?

  25. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    I see merit in asymmetric spacing of em dashes –like this– so that –like this again– they act more like parentheses, and you can easily tell the main from the aside when there are lots in a single sentence.

    I think it’s a very good convention (for the reason you give) but I only ever see it in Spanish typography, where it seems to be standard.

  26. David Marjanović says

    the upside-down triangle symbol is called the “nabla,” while the operator it represents is “del.”

    …which is interesting because I was taught it’s the Nabla operator…

    Not necessarily, in which case the hyphen is shorter with more space, to David Marjanović’s chagrin.

    If I can distinguish them, I’m good; I’ve also seen monospaced dashes rendered thinner and/or lower in the line than hyphens. It gets bad when people use single hyphens instead of dashes in proportional fonts and don’t distinguish them by spaces either; and that is very common on the English-speaking Internet.

    though you may mean English-language, David

    Yes, thanks – though I have to confess I chose the word perfidious as a not particularly original allusion to perfidious Albion.

    merit in asymmetric spacing of em dashes

    Very good point.

    these are all hyphens, right?

    Yes, and they should be.

  27. I don’t care much one way or the other whether an M-dash has spaces around it. I’ve written according to style guides that called for the spaces to be present, and also ones that called for them to be omitted. (I usually leave them out when left to my own devices.) However, the examples with spaces on only one side look jarringly awkward to me.

  28. you can easily tell the main from the aside when there are lots in a single sentence.

    There should never be more than two; I expended much effort as a copyeditor in ridding sentences of excess em dashes.

  29. I really don’t get the outcry.

    AP style guideline: “no hyphen is needed in a compound modifier if the modifier is commonly recognized as one phrase, and if the meaning is clear and unambiguous without the hyphen.”

    Detractors: *Cite examples of modifiers that are not commonly recognized as one phrase and where the meaning is unclear and ambiguous without the hyphen.*

  30. Crawdad Tom says

    On the subject of hyphens, this seems like a good time to ask about something I’ve noticed here and also at Language Log: why are compound modifiers with adverbs ending in ly almost always (it seems) hyphenated? All the style handbooks I’ve worked with (AP, Chicago, APA, MLA) say not to, as such a compound modifier cannot be misunderstood–that’s the function of the ly. Just curious.

  31. why are compound modifiers with adverbs ending in ly almost always (it seems) hyphenated?

    They’re not, at least in edited prose. Random people on the internet, as always, do whatever they damn please, but you can hardly use them as examples of style.

  32. In the US, that is. I believe UK rules are different.

  33. I have never been able to understand the difference between hyphens, m-dashes, and n-dashes. I recognise only two: hyphens and long dashes, which I routinely types as “–” (that is, two hyphens; the blog will probably correct them). I wish I had the long version on my keyboard because it is useful. As it is, I have to go somewhere (like LH) where the program automatically corrects them and copy it into whatever I’m writing.

    I find it annoying when there are no spaces before and after — because it looks wrong. It’s joining segments of prose, not words.

    But what would I know?

  34. My bad. I didn’t collect examples for evidence. What Hat said in response to my comment. But I never took Language Log and LanguageHat as “random people on the internet,” given how well-informed the bloggers and commenters seem to be, especially here at LanguageHat. My impression of seeing compound modifiers with adverbs ending in ly hyphenated here may be an illusion. But a quick search at Language Log using “ly-” turned up numerous examples, in both the entries and the comments. Just to give a few:

    The newly-available information
    Dutch speakers just happen to reside in economically-advantaged countries
    And according to the previously-cited court filing
    The statistical allegations in the recently-filed complaint
    which seems to me a somewhat commonly-accepted synonym
    there’s another, contextually-sensitive layer of complexity
    Centrally-planned peeving
    often it’s just apparently-arbitrary differences in word choices

  35. @Bathrobe

    m-dash: alt+0151 —
    n-dash: alt+0150 –

  36. An M dash —
    is
    alt shift –
    ‘-‘ being an ordinary hyphen,
    on my mac keyboard.

    In the US, that is. I believe UK rules are different.

    I thought not hyphenating ly adverbs was a British convention too. It’s a sensible idea but the down side is that other modifying words that end in ly can then appear vaguely silly-looking hyphenations. In any case, lots of otherwise upstanding people don’t hyphenate compound modifications at all. I’m guessing they either never noticed the convention or decided stylistically – like using dozens of commas – it’s fussy. I do it sometimes.

  37. David Marjanović says

    I have never been able to understand the difference between […] m-dashes, and n-dashes.

    Congratulations – m-dashes seem to be exclusive to English. 🙂

    The n-dash is basically just the logogram for to in ranges of numbers, e.g. 6–10, used without spaces (spaces, ideally narrow ones, are used in German). Some styles also use it for hyphens that join longer expressions which contain spaces (or hyphens, I think), like South Africa–associated, or for pedantic disambiguation: even on Wikipedia you can find the Dunning–Kruger effect, so rendered to make clear that there isn’t a single person named Dunning-Kruger. All other dashes are m-dashes.

    alt shift –

    Yes, on the Mac. Microsoft hasn’t allowed its ASCII keyboard driver to go beyond ASCII; outside of Microsoft software, most of us have to resort to what juha said.

  38. January First-of-May says

    even on Wikipedia you can find the Dunning–Kruger effect, so rendered to make clear that there isn’t a single person named Dunning-Kruger

    Oh, as in Gay-Lussac’s law versus Boyle–Mariotte law. (Both copied from Wikipedia, though the latter is apparently not the standard name in English; Russian Wikipedia has “Закон Бойля — Мариотта” with a big dash and spaces.)
    I have seen multiple (Russian) jokes involving a supposed “Boyle-Mariotte”; in some of them he is compared to Gay and Lussac.

    Another nice example is Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, which the Philae mission had landed on a few years ago; again, Churyumov and Gerasimenko are two different people.

  39. David Marjanović says

    The weirdest thing I’ve seen are hyphens for -emphasis-. This obviously come from _faux-underlining_ in plain text combined with not using the Shift key; but by now it occurs in normally capitalized text and Even in -Fully- Capitalized Headlines.

  40. I don’t think I’ve seen that, and I hope I never do. I try to be tolerant, but that just looks dumb.

  41. Allan from Iowa says

    Somewhere I came across a font that was monospace except that the em dash was twice as wide as the other characters.

  42. Stu Clayton says

    I try to be tolerant, but [hyphens for -emphasis-] just looks dumb.

    It’s merely another version of grocer’s quotes. The root cause of this new version is the P in PC (personal computer). On the pretext of giving everyone the power to do things as he wants, everyone must do these things without knowing how. Everyone is forced to deal with technical matters that specialist dealt with before the PC age. Here it’s typesetting and formatting.

  43. Allan led me to this long thread at Hacker News. It has an explanation of why no double space appears after periods in HTML:

    DanielKehoe on Jan 7, 2018 [-]

    When the web was invented, we came to consensus there should be a single space after periods that close sentences in rendered HTML documents.
    You can see the original discussion, on the www-talk mailing list in July 1993 [1]. In the thread “Space after Periods,” Terry Allen (an editor at O’Reilly) advocated for rendering more space after a period that closes a sentence than after a period that marks an abbreviation (in keeping with TeX and troff conventions).

    I proposed that, “A WWW document (which uses proportional fonts) should have the same space between sentences as between words” and cited as authority “Words into Type” and the “Chicago Manual of Style.” in 1993, “WIT” and “Chicago” set standards for publishing much like RFCs do for the Internet.

    Terry Allen and I engaged in some snarky backbiting, then Ken Chang of NCSA Publications said he preferred “‘one space fits all’ as writers of HTML really shouldn’t need to know the fineries of typography” and finally Guido van Rossum complained that, “extra space after a sentence… is mostly propaganda by Knuth and Kernighan (TeX and troff)” and implored, “Let’s keep HTML simple!”

    If you don’t like the way that browsers collapse spaces between sentences, you can blame me (and Ken Chang plus Guido van Rossum who clearly had issues with whitespace beyond Python).

    [1] http://1997.webhistory.org/www.lists/www-talk.1993q3/index.html

  44. Interesting!

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