Hyphen facing extinction?


Is the hyphen facing extinction? Yes, if the lexicographers are right.

The latest revision of the Oxford English Dictionary eschews them, dumping more than 16,000 examples (including the crucial ‘fig-leaf’) for their compound equivalents (‘figleaf’). The reason?

“Our world of fast keying and quick edits onscreen has largely given up searching for the hyphen.”

The poets won’t like it, or so one first thinks. In fact, the jury is still out on hyphens in poetry. Many early poets’ work varies hyphenation in different versions of the same text. Nor do style guides agree on the hyphen.

Fowler’s Modern English Usage makes a detailed study, then admits “usage is so

variable as to be better named caprice”. Another style book says: “If you take hyphens seriously you will surely go mad.”

Sir Ernest Gowers, author of The Complete Plain Words, replies, “I have no intention of taking hyphens seriously.”

So it doesn’t matter if the hyphens are being used less frequently?