Thursday, April 14, 2011

Dream a Dream or I am NOT an AP Style Guide Guru

Sometimes we just have to laugh at ourselves. Especially when the day has been a pile of shit and you wonder what the hell is going on with the world. Sadly, that's probably a post that needs to be reserved for another day. So, despite the sadness I'm feeling... for my wife and for all of the people who have been affected by the recent tragedy that we've experience in our small hamlet, I will press on. My humor will probably fall short and jokes will be stale. The rain will still come down and we will still mourn. I'm sorry, you're here to learn about writing. I suppose one thing you could learn from this is to take the pain and the hurt and write from those depths that nearly kill you. Write. Write. Write.

Moving forward. Writing and grammar are invading my thoughts and contributing to my madness. Apparently, I dreamed a conversation between my boss and one of the editors at work regarding new AP Style Guide recommendations about the use of hyphens. The gist of the conversation revolved around new guidelines that changed how hyphens are used. Basically, AP Style Guide was saying that we need to eliminate as many hyphens as possible. In theory, I like this. Anything to get extraneous punctuation the hell out of my way. But alas, it was simply a dream. Unfortunately, I wrote an article and I followed this new "rule."

Yeah, not so cool. But bear with me, I honestly thought that I had overheard this conversation. I could picture it vividly in my mind. I believe it. Well, AP Style is not bending to my will, okay? I was full of crap. I had no idea what I was thinking or doing. I'm an idiot. The thing is, I'm not sure which is scarier: the fact that I dreamt about my boss and another co-worker or that I actually believed what I had dreamt.

Okay, but your'e here to learn, right? So hyphens... yeah. Cool things, hyphens. Whatever. Here's the skinny:

AP says hyphens are joiners. Make sure you use them to avoid confusing people. Use them to form a single idea from two or more words. Know-what-I-mean?

However, guess what? "Use of the hyphen is far from standardized. It is optional in most cases, a matter of taste, judgment and style sense. But the fewer hyphens the better; use them only when not using them causes confusion."

So, HA! I say my dream was not merely a dream, but a premonition. Hyphens are optional in most cases. Damnit, get rid of them and take commas with you while you're at it. Okay, not all of them, but seriously. I wasn't horribly wrong, I was just ahead of my time.

The key issue is that when you use a hyphen, you shouldn't be confusing your reader. ¿Que?

So how's this for ambiguity? Recovered and re-covered. AP Style gives us these examples: He recovered his health. He re-covered the leaky roof.

Also, use a hyphen when you have a situation where you're using a compound modifier. This means two or more words that express a single concept and those words precede a noun, use a hyphen.

Examples: full-time job, know-it-all attitude, bluish-green dress, etc.

But guess what? Sometimes, you don't hyphenate. If the two words occur after a noun, don't hyphenate the damn things.

More AP Style examples: The dress, a bluish green, was ugly. She works full time. His attitude suggested that he knew it all and was a jerk. (I added "he was a jerk")





When the modifier that would be hyphenated before a noun occurs instead after a form of the verb to be, the hyphen usually must be retained to avoid confusion: (Direct quote from AP Style, okay?) Confused, yet? The examples: The man is well-known. The woman is quick-witted. The children are soft-spoken.

It gets better. Compound proper nouns and adjectives. Let's designate some dual heritage: Italian-American, Mexican-American... but wait! No damn hyphens for French Canadian or Latin American.

Meh. Hyphens suck. Let's just ditch them. Know-whatta-mean?

That's all for now.


  1. Well after your explanation, I now why email is now email and not e-mail. AP is getting rid of the hyphen. Never mind that everyone in the world except editors were using email and not e-mail.

  2. Hi Anne, yes, the hyphen in email no longer exists. From everything I've read, it just seems that it's kind of a "use the hyphen at your discretion" kind of thing.