Departing Hyphens


The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary has eliminated thousands of hyphens, Reuters reports.  A new edition of the dictionary has combined some formerly hyphenated words into single words (bumblebee and chickpea) and others into two-word phrases (ice cream and test tube).  The decision was partly based on a visual consideration--the belief that hyphens in the middle of words look ungainly.  The editors had also observed that people are increasingly unsure about how to use hyphens, especially in the age of text messages and tweets.

     This does not change the rule that a compound adjective placed before a noun must be hyphenated, especially where its meaning would otherwise be unclear.  The modifier two-word, above, is an example of such a compound adjective.  It would be ambiguous without the hyphen. 

                                    --The Word Aficionado