Hysteria over Hyphens.

The Economist‘s Johnson column (on language) has a good roundup of the vexed issue of hyphens, which starts with the classic quote “If you take hyphens seriously, you will surely go mad.” I got the link from this post by Lucy Ferriss, who is quite wrong about spelled-out numbers followed by a reference to a measurement, as in “a twenty-five-year-old car.” She thinks it’s OK to “skip one or two, e.g. a twenty-five year-old car.” No. It is not. You use every one of those hyphens or you fail my copyediting test.


  1. Crash Davis says

    If you have sex with twenty-five-year-olds you’re not going to prison. Twenty-five year-olds, or twenty five-year-olds, however…

  2. What can she be thinking?

  3. The URL for the post at Economist is
    https: //www.economist.com/news/books-and-arts/21723088-hyphens-can-be-tricky-they-need-not-drive-you-crazy-hysteria-over-hyphens
    Now, that’s the right amount of hyphens for sure.

  4. Do you find usage has changed? I would never leave out any of the hyphens in “a twenty-five-year-old car,” but in recent years I’ve wanted to avoid constructions that call for several hyphens close together; they make me think of typewritten dissertations. Once “a mid-nineteenth-century poet” looked entirely normal to me, but now nothing seems quite right, and I try to get away with “a mid-nineteenth century poet” or “a mid–nineteenth century poet.”

  5. I’ve noticed that “mid” often doesn’t take the hyphen at all. I am not sure if that is a new thing or if there were always two competing traditions.

  6. hysteria-over-hyphens-language-hat-post

  7. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Maybe I’ve gone mad (in Lucy Ferris’s sense) as well as senile (see yesterday’s posts), but you’re right, of course, and “twenty-five-year-old car” needs its three hyphens. In this case it’s not obvious how to phrase it better — maybe a “car from twenty-five years ago”. In my own writing I’d struggle to find a way to avoid having so many hyphens.

    I’m currently involved with preparation of a review on the origin of life. There are more than 20 authors, with almost as many addresses, which makes it difficult to agree. Fortunately most of them are barely contributing, but even with six or seven it’s not easy. Anyway the phrase “origins of life” occurs many times, sometimes as an adjective (“origins-of-life”) and sometimes as a noun (“origins of life”). In the first draft the presence of absence of hyphens was more or less random, and I went through making them all consistent. Unfortunately two of the authors didn’t know or didn’t understand the rule and said it was inconsistent. However, I managed to shut them up with a reference to the Chicago Manual (which does, however, express it more weakly than I would have liked).

    Incidentally why “origins” rather than “origin”? I prefer the singular but there was a clear majority for the plural. However, it’s a scientific question (how many origins do you think there were?) rather than a grammatical one.

  8. Origin of life implies single creator, I think.

    Plural is more consistent with a view that life originated as a result of natural processes rather than act of creation.

  9. How about “a 25-year-old car”? Digits can’t be that bad, can they, seeing as the number is at least 10 and is not at the start of a sentence.

  10. Five-and-score-year-old-car.

  11. Mark Twain: “the on-the-other-side-of-the-river-lying mountains” (calquing German).

  12. David Marjanović says

    Thank you.

    Another common issue is complete confusion about hyphens and dashes. I’ve reviewed dozens of manuscripts and read plenty of published works where incorrect hyphens tripped me up-like that-see?

    What can she be thinking?

    There seems to be a widespread myth in English that you can’t have more than one hyphen in a word.

    Incidentally why “origins” rather than “origin”? I prefer the singular but there was a clear majority for the plural.

    That’s thoroughly bizarre unless they’re talking about separate origins of life on different planets. It is plain obvious that all known life has a single origin – protracted as this origin must have been.

    calquing German

    Funnily enough, Mark Twain added the hyphens to let the reader wrap their mind around German box-in-box syntax. They’re not there in the original: die auf der anderen Seite des Flusses liegenden Berge.

  13. In my field of linguistic research, there are major differences in the usage of hyphens vs. en dashes vs. open compounds between (U.S.-based) Oceanic Linguistics and (Australia-based) Pacific Linguistics. OL upgrades hyphens to en dashes when a prefix (most commonly proto-) is attached to an open compound, as in Proto–North Sarawak, while PL treats Proto as an independent word, as in Proto North Sarawak. To get an idea of the confusion that prevails on this issue, try googling “proto central eastern malayo-polynesian languages”! Of all the variants that turn up, perhaps the only missing one is hyphens throughout: proto-central-eastern-malayo-polynesian languages.

    BTW, one of my favorite obscure dissertation titles is “The Proto–North Sarawak Vowel-Deletion Hypothesis”!

  14. J.W. Brewer says

    I saw someone advocating that style (w/ en dashes) recently, and it struck me as particularly bizarre because it encouraged misparsing. I think one of the examples was “post–Cold War,” which seemed to me to suggest [[post cold] war] rather than [post [cold war]]. Similarly, I assume the internal structure of compound Joel mentions is [proto [north Sarawak]] not [[proto north] Sarawak]?

  15. The idea is that hyphen is close scope, space is wider scope, and en-dash is widest scope. It would be simpler to remember if the en-dash were wrapped in spaces: Proto – North Sarawak, but that looks too much like an em dash: Proto — North Sarawak.

  16. I think one of the examples was “post–Cold War,” which seemed to me to suggest [[post cold] war] rather than [post [cold war]].

    That’s odd; as a copyeditor who routinely inserts that en dash, it seems obvious to me that it’s the en dash that suggests [post [cold war]] and the hyphen that parses as [[post cold] war]. I mean, look at “post-Cold War”: how can that not read as “a War that’s post-Cold”?

  17. In LaTeX, the en-dash is set lower than the others, with the intention that it only be used between ranges of numbers. As a result, I never use en-dashes for grammatical purposes at all.

  18. David Marjanović says

    Do you use em-dashes instead? Those seem to be restricted to the English language.

  19. J.W. Brewer says

    My vague impression is that most of the people who view en-dashes and hyphens contrastively, i.e. as signalling different semantic content when put in the exact same place, are in the tiny minority of the population that has worked in the printing/typesetting/copyediting industries. To the extent they think any material proportion of their readers in the general population are grokking the distinctions they think they are signalling according to the internal conventions of their subculture, I suspect they are naive. That neither en nor em dash exist on an old-timey typewriter keyboard (or in the basic ASCII set) except for the ad hoc — (two consecutive hyphens) approximation is probably a contributing factor to making these distinctions part of specialized/subcultural jargon.

  20. J.W. Brewer says

    Hmm, I guess when I typed in two consecutive hyphens it automatically displayed as an em-dash? That’s not how it worked in the old days … (get off my lawn etc etc …).

  21. @David Marjanović: Yeah, I only use em-dashes, except to denote inclusive ranges (which can occasionally be done with words instead of number, like “Fri.–Sun.”). I use “grammar dash” as a virtual synonym for “em-dash,” although I’m not sure if I made that up myself, or if I picked it up somewhere.

  22. Marja Erwin says

    I use hyphens. I disable any kind of autocorrect or autoformat, since it goes haywire. I sometimes use double hyphens, but not n or m dashes.

    I take it post-Cold means Holocene?

    And proto-North refers to the fringe Borean hypothesis?

  23. Regina Lusca says

    I only use em-dashes on Twitter, because they save the two spaces I’d need with an en-dash.

  24. I think many people don’t really know that en-dashes are a thing but nevertheless interpret them differently from hyphens when reading; somewhat like how native speakers can apply grammar rules they are unaware of.

    Judging by Wikipedia, Canadian electoral districts scope order is hyphen — space — unspaced-em-dash.

    The busiest section of RER B is probably the Châtelet–Les Halles — St-Michel–Notre-Dame section (demographically and punctuationally).

    [edited as the thin space wasn’t showing thin enough]

  25. > Do you use em-dashes instead? Those seem to be restricted to the English language.

    How so? I’m quite sure they’re not.

  26. David Marjanović says

    They’re definitely never used in German in any case. The Gedankenstrich – “thought stroke”, used like parentheses but for emphasis instead of deemphasis, or for dramatic pauses – is an en dash between two spaces as I’m demonstrating.

  27. Trond Engen says

    A Norwegian tankestrek has the same function as a German one. But we use the longer dash — probably tje one you call m-dash — instead of double spaces. I have no idea where it’s hidden on my keyboard. In the days of Ascii internet I learned to use a double hyphen, and after Microsoft word started turning double dashes into long dashes it’s been a moot point.

  28. The names of these dashes can be written as “em-dash”/”en-dash” or “M-dash”/”N-dash,” but “m-dash”/”n-dash” is incorrect. The names come from the fact that the dashes are conventionally the same width as a capital M or N. These widths are used a (typeface-dependent) units of spacing in typography, but they are conventionally spelled “em” or “en” (rather than “M” or “N”) to avoid confusion with the actual letters themselves.

  29. David Marjanović says

    I have no idea where it’s hidden on my keyboard.

    MS Office:
    – Ctrl+minus on the decimal block
    — Ctrl+Alt+minus (or AltGr+minus if you have an AltGr key)

    – Alt+0150 on the decimal block
    — also has such a code, but I forgot it.

    Alt+0150 is what I’m using here.

  30. — also has such a code, but I forgot it.

    — Alt+0151 on the decimal block

  31. AltGr+Q m and AltGr+Q n on the Moby Latin and Whacking Latin keyboards.

  32. In Portuguese we definitely use the longer travessão, albeit with spaces, for this kind of parenthetical. Our typography tends to be ripped off the French so I bet they do it too? We also use em-dashes to mark dialogue lines (yes I know U+2015 HORIZONTAL BAR is supposed to be used for that rather than em-dashes proper; but I’m pretty sure non-typographers think of them as the same travessão). I’d never even seen the en-dash used for that before I started reading English; and I believe its Portuguese name, meia-risca, is much less well-known. I find it uglier, but eventually got used to it; I always prefer it for text that may be read in monospace (code, README files, email etc.), since unspaced em-dashes don’t really work in mono.

    It’s surprising to me that to this day Windows, touted for its user-friendliness, still relies on Alt+digit sequences as the only way to input special characters. On Linux I just do Compose+two hyphens for en-dashes, Compose+three hyphens for em-dashes, (Compose,a,e) for æ, (Compose,=,y) for ¥, and so on. Wouldn’t live without a Compose key.

  33. It’s surprising to me that to this day Windows, touted for its user-friendliness, still relies on Alt+digit sequences as the only way to input special characters.

    It isn’t the only way, it’s the only way that works on any physical keyboard and keyboard driver. The Moby Latin (for physical U.S. keyboards) and Moby Whacking (for physical UK and Ireland keyboards) drivers allow typing about a thousand different characters with AltGr+key or an AltGr+key followed by key sequence. I’ve never gotten around to making variants for other physical keyboards — lack of demand so far.

  34. @John Cowan: Yes, “only way” is an error on my part. I mean more like the default, built-in, cross-locale, multilingual, non-extra-software-needed way, like Compose is for Linux. (Making (Compose, ], h) output a ‹˺› (end high tone) is my personal customization, and making ‘rabu’ print (ღ˘⌣˘ღ) is part of my Japanese input method; but (Compose, -, -, -) will make an em-dash on any Linux machine).

  35. Trond Engen says

    I should perhaps say that I knew how to produce a long dash on the digital pad. It’s on my laptop computer without a digital pad that I’m resorting to double hyphens and MS Word Autocorrect.

    I don’t think I’ve ever composed anything more advanced than a Usenet post on a Linux system, The “Compose” key does look handy. If not for anything else, so because the sequences seem easier to remember than numerical strings.

  36. the default, built-in, cross-locale, multilingual, non-extra-software-needed way

    That works because Compose is higher-level than the keyboard driver, so you specify compose sequences in terms of keyboardable characters, not physical key positions. This means that a Compose sequence won’t work if the underlying keyboard does not have the character available for typing.

    In Windows there is no such user-programmable layer between the driver and the rest of the system, so everything has to be defined with respect to physical key positions. Furthermore, support for more than two keystrokes is very limited, and I don’t attempt to use it.

    Still, I get a lot of mnemonic mileage out of what I’ve got, as you can see. README file.

  37. Lars (the original one) says

    Danish typographical conventions were probably ripped off from German, but FWIW there’s only hyphen and em-dash, and with one obscure exception em-dash is for grammar and has spaces. hyphen is for composing words and ranges and never does.

  38. Trond Engen says

    And Norwegian conventions are Danish.

  39. Hat, what do you use for the Russian City dash (“The town of M——” etc.)? What about the Victorian Curse dash (“D—— it to H——!”)?

  40. I don’t think I’ve had to do either, but if I do I’ll try to remember to copy yours — they look great!

  41. I think you are supposed to use the q― d―, officially known as HORIZONTAL BAR for some obscure reason.

  42. Jill Lepore’s article The Data Delusion in the NYer has “a mysterious Elon Musk-like millionaire”. A smelly millionaire? One who is like a muskrat or a muskox? That is exactly why God created en-dashes.

  43. ktschwarz says

    Does the New Yorker generally follow that en-dash convention? (Language Hat, have you ever noticed whether they generally do or not?)

  44. Yes, they used to at any rate.

  45. ktschwarz says

    Just to be clear, I mean specifically for constructions like post–Cold War, pre–Civil War, Elon Musk–like (as opposed to between numbers, such as sports scores). Do they do that, or used to?

  46. Well, their punctuation gal talks about it here.

  47. David Marjanović says

    That is exactly why God created en-dashes.

    The heathen writers of German simply use as many hyphens as needed: ein mysteriöser Elon-Musk-artiger Milliardär. It’s one word, don’t put spaces in it.

  48. I saw this today: N-enhancement in GN-z11: First evidence for supermassive stars nucleosynthesis in proto-globular clusters-like conditions at high redshift?

    I had a hard time parsing “proto-globular clusters-like conditions”. And people think space scientists are smart.

    (“Supermassive stars nucleosynthesis” is just ungrammatical, too.)

  49. Jill Lepore’s article The Data Delusion in the NYer has “a mysterious Elon Musk-like millionaire”. A smelly millionaire? One who is like a muskrat or a muskox? That is exactly why God created en-dashes.

    No, it was some bright-spark prescriptivist in the US who made that particular use of the en dash into a rule. Probably an early- to mid-20C CMOS shaman. I might look through my collection of superseded editions to pin this down.

    Few who are competent in English would really parse “a mysterious Elon Musk-like millionaire” wrongly, because “Elon Musk” is already marked as a functional unit by its capitalisation. In other cases (but not, in English, with a capitalised name like Elon Musk) it is standard to add another hyphen to make things clear: “a mysterious supension-bridge-like structure on Mars”. The mainline UK way. (Yes Virginia, there are non-US ways in good standing among editors and writers.)

    Probably because the en dash gets deployed that way in the US, other uses of the en dash are less in favour there. Many Americans know nothing of the spaced en dash in the same role as the em dash for sentence-level punctation, but it’s very common in non-US practice. There are a couple of good arguments for preferring it, and a couple in favour of preferring the em dash. Each has its own unique distinguishing properties, setting it apart from other sentence-level punctuation marks.

    CMOS still doesn’t allow US–Canadian relations. In exactly that example it wants a hyphen instead: “Chicago’s sense of the en dash does not extend to between” (CMOS 17, 6.80). Just about everyone else’s does though. This limitation fits ill with CMOS allowing en dash meaning “to”: “The London–Paris train leaves at two o’clock” (CMOS 17, 6.78). And anyway, what does CMOS want in US[]New Zealand relations? A hyphen because en dash doesn’t extend to between, or an en dash because New Zealand, like Elon Musk, includes a space?

    Perhaps there’s hope for future editions. After all, CMOS did finally get religion and call for the dots to be removed from U.S.; and now CMOS also calls for a comma (or any other mark) not to get italicised simply because it follows a word that is italicised. That took decades.

  50. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    En det-var-ikke-min-skyld-selvom-det-var-mig-der-gjorde-det-agtig attitude. (‘An attitude like “it wasn’t my fault even though it was me who did it”‘). I’ve known people who did it much more that me. Obviously it will have to be rephrased for writing.

    I think that example is about the longest sentence you can hang onto -agtig if you want to be understood, but if your theory of theories does not admit of length limits you can be even more extreme. Anything with a full stop in it will break the intonation pattern, though

  51. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    CMOS still doesn’t allow US–Canadian relations.

    It does sound kind of dirty, doesn’t it? Better to head it off at the pass.

  52. Trond Engen says

    @Lars: I think the length limit would be very elastic. The more the embedded sentence is built up by familiar elements, the longer it can be. En-helliget-vorde-dit navn-komme-dit rige-ske-din-vilje-som-i-himlen-således også-på-jorden-agtig sekvens? En giv-os-i-dag-vort-daglige-brød-og-forlad-os-vor-skyld-som også-vi-forlader-vore skyldnere-og-led-os-ikke-i-fristelse-men-fri-os-fra-det-onde-aktig fortsættelse?

  53. Lars:

    Right. There ought to be a cordon sanitaire. Around United States[]Canadian relations also, to say nothing of United States[]New Zealand relations. And how about New Zealand–and US-Canadian relations and the like?

  54. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    @Trond, I think if I was hearing those I’d have lost track of the embedding structure (even if just a determiner like here) by the time -agtig came around. But that’s just me. Does Norwegian of various stripes allow this too?

  55. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    @Noetica, I was not a fan of Corona, but at least it kept this sort of filth (FILTH I tell you) from happening.

  56. Trond Engen says

    @Lars: My point was meant to be that if you know (or are able to predict) much of the embedded content, you can keep track for longer. But the middle parts of the Lord’s Prayer may well be too obscure these days,

    Norwegian is much the same as Danish. And I don’t think it would vary much between dialects. I have no more difficulty imagining it said in a rural Western or Northern variety that in common-or-garden Urban Eastern.

  57. Trond Engen says

    (Exocentric introspection)

  58. PlasticPaddy says

    @lars, trond
    I was thinking about this, for me a “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, [on Earth as it is in Heaven]” sequence would be the limit for understandability, with the bracketed part best omitted. Compare a “been there, done that, bought the t-shirt” experience/moment.

  59. Here’s a dreadful sentence from a NY Times book review:

    Of this, the MacArthur “genius” grant-winning writer Cristina Rivera Garza is well aware.

  60. Dreadful, yes.

    Something more on hyphens and en dashes. From the same stable as CMOS 17 is Scientific Style and Format , 8th edition, 2014 (SSF 8). The two works reference and recommend each other. Here is a bouquet of approved examples (and one other selection) in SSF, each of which would demonstrably be managed differently on CMOS principles: north–south avenues Italian–Canadian relations but Italian-Canadian immigrant population Pre-Gold-Rush buildings a 5-g dose … 50-km radius “For non–lichen-forming fungi …” [this use of the en dash is not discussed in SSF; CMOS should not want that en dash, given its closely analogous example non-beer-drinking (7.89, in the table at section 4), in which also there is very little chance of misunderstanding]

    They should talk to each other more.

  61. They all make consistent sense to me. Italian–Canadian relations are relations between Italy and Canada. Italian-Canadians are a subset of Canadians, those who are also Italian in origin. Non–lichen-forming fungi are fungi that don’t form lichens, without stating that they form something else. Non-beer-drinking people means they drink, but not beer (‘they drink non-beer’); non–beer-drinking would also work.

  62. Whether or not they make sense, Y, they all disagree with CMOS: the flagship guide in the same fleet. That was the main point. In fact I often prefer SSF rulings to CMOS rulings, myself. Other times I’d disagree with both.

  63. ktschwarz says

    Noetica: “No, it was some bright-spark prescriptivist in the US who made that particular use of the en dash into a rule. Probably an early- to mid-20C CMOS shaman.”

    Huh, I hadn’t realized this was originally American, but you’re right. The “Elon Musk–like millionaire” en-dash rule is already there in the first (1906) edition of CMOS:

    … where one of the components contains more than one word, an en-dash should be used in place of a hyphen:
    New York–Chicago freight traffic.

    Meanwhile in the UK, this innovation had not yet been heard of in the 1921 edition of Hart’s Rules, in which the en rule is to be used only for page number ranges and approximate dates (but not for date ranges). And Fowler (1926), in his section on hyphens, says he wishes there were a hierarchy of hyphens, but there isn’t and never will be!

    It should first be observed that the most frequent cause of wrong hyphening is the treating of two or more normally spaced words as though they were one word & could be, though so spaced, a single item in a hyphen-compound ; the least that can be done to double-barrelled adjectives, even when they stand alone, is to hyphen them ; Mr Lloyd George (without a hyphen) forms the Lloyd-George Government (with one) ; the need is still greater when further complications come, but the result is then unsatisfactory—the Lloyd-George-Winston-Churchill Government. Obviously connexions of different power are needed; a short & a long hyphen (-, —), or a single & a double one (-, =), would do (the Lloyd-George—Winston-Churchill Government, the Lloyd-George = Winston-Churchill G.) ; but this is an innovation that would hardly find acceptance ; & is better than — or = (the Lloyd-George & Winston-Churchill G.) ; better than either is some evasion, the George-Churchill G., or the G. of Messrs Lloyd George & Churchill.

    (Bolding mine.) So according to Fowler, “Elon Musk-like millionaire” cannot be satisfactorily punctuated, and must be rephrased. His examples and replacements include:

    mid-nineteenth century politicians (politicians of the mid-nineteenth century).
    Free Trade-Protectionist controversy (the controversy between Free Trade & Protection ; or why not the Free-Trade controversy ?)
    South African-born Indians (Indians born in South Africa).

    But it’s no good to be so flinchy as to do that evasive maneuver every single time; it gets verbose and is likely to disturb the focus and emphasis of the sentence. *Something* has to be allowed: pre-Gold Rush, pre-Gold-Rush, pre–Gold Rush, at least one of those.

  64. Excellent contribution, kt. On the last matter, I am far from persuaded that anything other than pre-Gold Rush is needed.

  65. Stu Clayton says

    Wiktionary gives one of the meanings of hyphen as

    Someone who belongs to a marginalized subgroup, and can therefore described by a hyphenated term, such as “German-American”, “female-academic”, etc.

    I have always felt that “New York-Chicago” was a subgroup not deserving my attention.

    Note the sneaky non sequitur in “can therefore be described”. The author of that sentence seems to adhere to the notion that exclusion is a mode of inclusion. Which it is. That’s what the hyphen signals here.

  66. David Eddyshaw says

    I generally refer to the reconstructed ancestor of the Western Oti-Volta languages as proto-Western Oti-Volta, though it looks wrong somehow. On the other hand, proto-Western-Oti-Volta looks even wronger. I could just do with Fowler’s hyphen hierarchy for this.

  67. Stu Clayton says

    Don’t need no “hierarchies”, nested brackets will serve. Proto[Western[Oti Volta]].

  68. PlasticPaddy says

    Just write pWOV = (proto) Western Oti-Volta and let the chips fly where they may….

  69. Stu Clayton says

    It should be clear by now that the hyphen is a false friend, an entry drug to excesses of niggling normativity. One hyphen leads to another, then someone calls in the punctuation police. The case is brought before the Court of Hierarchy. Only the lawyers get anything out of this.

  70. And just around the corner lurks preʡ̣proto–Western Oti-Volta.

    I used to mentally snarl at those who promoted “Proto” from a prefix to a word, as in “Proto Central-Eastern Malayo-Polynesian”*, but then realized they weren’t thoughtless, just stuck in an impossible situation.

    * Wikipedia puts an en-dash between “Central” and “Eastern”, perhaps to denote that it’s the union of Central and Eastern, not a restriction of Eastern. U. of Hawai‘i Press, Pacific Linguistics, Oxford UP, Benjamins, and de Gruyter use a hyphen there. But then they also all use a hyphen in “South Halmahera-West New Guinea”. Philistines. I blame TikTok.

  71. David Marjanović says

    La Motte-Picquet

    Written in two lines on all of the signage in the station.

    I think I’ve seen, somewhere in Paris, the rendering La Motte-Picquet–Grenelle, which is what the English Wikipedia article is called. The French one, linked above, uses La Motte-Picquet – Grenelle.

    Edit: no, it doesn’t, but the software here automatically turns a hyphen between two spaces into an n-dash.

  72. the software here automatically turns a hyphen between two spaces into an n-dash.

    For me that sort of overriding is what’s most offensive and pernicious. At least in MS Word we can turn such impertinences off – even if few users have the vaguest clue about those matters, in my daily experience.

    And just now I tried to put the word “groan” between angle brackets, at the start of my comment. Not only did the software not render that as I wished, it removed it from my editable text entirely. [groan]

  73. David Marjanović says

    (“Supermassive stars nucleosynthesis” is just ungrammatical, too.)

    Judging from the authors’ last names, there may not be a native speaker among them.

    (…And I’ve reviewed many manuscripts where some non-first author is a native speaker but very obviously didn’t edit the manuscript before submission.)

  74. <groan> or, if you want to go all typographically-correct 〈groan〉.

  75. Stu Clayton says

    What you see (while typing) is not what you get:


    Much less efficient than pencil and paper. So what is it good for ? For transmitting ephemeral remarks as fast as possible, and storing them forever.

  76. Thanks, you two. Now link me to the complete and definitive guide to all such features at this site, please. And show me how to get underlining, since the standard way is disabled.

  77. David Marjanović says

    You can’t get underlining. (Maybe there’s a special character somewhere in the depths of Unicode, but I doubt it.)

    All the HTML entities with & and ; seem to work, though. Test: &trade; = ™

  78. Stu Clayton says

    To get red underlining, use a href link with an empty URL:

    <a href=””>Hello</a>


  79. You can’t get underlining.

    Yup, even I can’t as far as I know. But I’ve never felt the need of it.

  80. We can’t quote certain material from CGEL. Many Cambridge language texts and others use underlining mixed in with their italics. I have felt the need. Bold could be substituted: brutal, and noisome to explain each time.

    Still, as Igor remarked: it could be worse.

  81. Y̱o̱u̱ c̱a̱ṉ c̱ẖe̱a̱ṯ.

  82. B͟e͟tt͟e͟r͟ y͟e͟t͟.

  83. Keith Ivey says

    Neither looks great for me, though at least they don’t interfere with searching, as I feared they might.

  84. Noetica: “Now link me to the complete and definitive guide to all such features at this site, please.”

    A table of transformations done by the wptexturize function. I don’t know if that’s a complete list, since it says “Here are some of the text transformations”. It does explain why it puts the correct apostrophe (instead of open-quote) at the beginning of ’tis, but not ‘cello: because it has a fairly short list of words that it knows begin with an apostrophe.

    Test: does 1234" become 1234″ (double prime symbol)? Worked.
    Test: does (tm) become ™ (trademark symbol)? Worked.

    It’s possible to evade the auto-formatting by replacing the characters that it targets with HTML numeric character references, like &#x0026; (named character entity references like &amp; may not work). That’s what I did to show the inputs in the tests above.

  85. Keith Ivey says

    I was going to say that’s not a double prime but just a typewriter quotation mark, but it looks like double prime displays that way in this font. Triple prime looks OK though: ‴

  86. I see it as a double prime.

  87. John Cowan says

    Ahem. Double prime is not properly the name of that mark, as that would be a contradiction in terms meaning ‘double single’. Historically mathematical a″ was read “a double”. However, double/triple/quadruple prime have become the names of the marks in practice.

  88. An alternative notation for quadruple and higher primes is to replace the marks with a Roman numeral, like yᴵⱽ. It obviously works better in the handwriting of someone who already makes their prime marks vertical (or nearly so). Moreover, this would probably be considered nonstandard by most mathematicians; the more conventional notation—at least when the primes represent differentiaions—would of course be y⁽⁴⁾.

  89. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    yᴵⱽ is not so much alternative as “lost origin”. Mediaeval mathematicians improved on the babylonian base-60 system by adding little roman numerals over the fractional “places”. I don’t remember the precise story, as in why they used the newly invented zero (now the degree mark) to mark the units place when using zeroes in the number itself would have made the whole place numeral thing redundant. pars minuta prima and pars minuta secunda, marked with prime and double, are the source of the timekeeping minute and second as well as the trigonometric/navigational ones.

    The use for feet and inches is probably analogical, and I don’t know who came up with it. (And they are not base-60).

  90. The notation of primes for derivatives was invented by Euler, and he was a classicist as well as a mathematician, so he was quite likely aware of that origin. However, Euler invented a lot of notations, and he eventually came to dislike the use of primes, in spite of its popularity after it was promoted by Lagrange. Euler later felt that the primes were easy to misread. That was indeed one of his reasons for disliking Newton’s original notation of dots for differentiation, although the dot notation is, of all other notations for differentiation, the most similar to the prime notation, and Euler must have seen the similarities between the two. He probably thought that the prime marks, being longer, were clearer than dots, then changed his mind after seeing the works of other mathematicians with worse handwriting than himself.

  91. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Yeah, I managed to forget about that use. I’m pretty sure we had (separate) first-year textbooks using both that and dot notation for classical mechanics. Once you start putting d/dx operators into matrices, I think the older notations become less useful.

  92. Newton used the overdot for a derivative with respect to a generic independent variable. However, nowadays that notation is pretty much limited to physics contexts, and refers specifically to taking the total time derivative of a quantity.

  93. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Yeah, I never used classical mechanics for anything much (since servers are supposed to stay in one spot, please), but I still think of stuff like orbital mechanics in dot notation. I never thought about why, but as far as I can see, and as long as you stay Newtonian, there is only one relevant derivative. (We covered the funky stuff about curves on surfaces in a maths course, not physics).

  94. David Marjanović says

    However, nowadays that notation is pretty much limited to physics contexts, and refers specifically to taking the total time derivative of a quantity.

    That’s how I was taught it in school.

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