Please stop abusing the hyphens

What-if we lived in a-world where people knew-how-to use hyphens-correctly? Can you-imagine how fucking-wonderful-that-world-would be? I can-barely-contain-my-excitement-at-the-thought.

Okay, I think I killed too many brain cells doing that.

One of my pet peeves related to grammar is hyphen usage, or the complete general ignorance of how to use hyphens correctly. I give a certain amount of leeway when it comes to these things on the Internet. The Internet is universal, so you can’t expect everyone to know every nuance of every language. So if I see a poor, abused hyphen, I’ll just cringe and move on. Frankly, even though I’m a copy editor for a living, I HATE when people have to comment on someone’s blog or another comment correcting someone’s grammar or spelling. FUCKING LET IT GO. Breaking news: In a casual setting like the Internet, it’s a fruitless argument. Sure, some people are impossible to understand because of the grievous mistakes they make, but trust me, it’s better that way. And odds are they won’t appreciate your nitpicking and you won’t educate them or change their minds. It will just turn into a flame war. LET IT GO. I do, even though some mistakes I see are just laughable.

But when it comes to my job, or business e-mails, I cannot STAND misused hyphens. What did the hyphens ever do to these people? Why do they have to be tortured like this and randomly stuck between words where they don’t belong or left out when they’re needed? PLEASE BE GENTLE WITH THEM. THEY’RE JUST TINY BITS OF PUNCTUATION. THEY CANNOT DEFEND THEMSELVES.

Now, I will admit that the rules of hyphen use are some of the most ambiguous around. But by utilizing a dictionary and a style guide, you really cannot go wrong. Some words always have hyphens in them, such as jump-start. Some words will only have hyphens when they are jointly modifying another word, like slow-witted employee. The general rule is that they should be used to avoid confusion or ambiguity. Now that can mean different things for different people. But it’s still not a hard rule to follow. While I might find the term sea-surface temperature to be ambiguous and thus need a hyphen, others might think sans hyphen—sea surface temperature—is just fine. Its presence or absence is not bothersome there. I’m talking about examples like in my opening paragraph, where the hyphens are serving no purpose and are extraordinarily annoying. STOP HARASSING MY EYES WITH UNNECESSARY HYPHENS, ASSHOLES.

For-example, you never need-a hyphen in a sentence-like-this-one. Ugh, typing that made me nauseous. I mean…I feel like anyone with even a most BASIC grasp of the English language—and this means everyone for whom it is a first language—should see why that first sentence is just vile, and it’s all because people insist on abusing the poor hyphens. If you’re not sure if a hyphen is appropriate, USE A FUCKING DICTIONARY. Sometimes they do belong in odd places (like jump-start; most people write it as one word). And there are some times you NEVER need them. You should never use them on an adverb that ends in -ly. So “perfectly laid plan” does not ever need a hyphen. STEP BACK. I SEE YOU EYEING IT. PUT THE HYPHEN DOWN.

But a little research on this can take you a long way. Most people don’t give two shits about their communication skills to even care; hell, if people can’t be bothered to type “you” instead of “u” (barf), I guess I can’t expect them to care about hyphens. But, frankly, I’d rather they NOT BE USED than be overused in the way that they often are. It verges on a felony, the way they’re abused.

I won’t get into all the time/reasons/places to use or not use hyphens, because this isn’t a copy editing blog. I’m just saying, if you have even one brain cell left, please put it to work learning how to use hyphens.

And don’t Even get me Started on random Capitalization of words. ARGH. I have to go lie down before my brain explodes.

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7 Responses to “Please stop abusing the hyphens”


  1. 1 Paul Reed June 17, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    Great article. I did want to correct you for saying “one” instead of “on” back in paragraph three, but how the hell can I? I guess I’ll just let it go ;o)

    • 2 The Anger Ball June 28, 2011 at 1:07 pm

      Hahaha, of COURSE I made a typo in this particular rant, even after rereading it before posting. I have since fixed it.

      You weren’t an asshole about pointing it out, so no hard feelings. :P

  2. 3 Tom June 23, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    I have noticed with increasing rage the overuse of hyphens: “on-going,” “mis-directed,” etc. etc. You used “nauseous” incorrectly though.

  3. 5 Sarah J. Stevenson (@aquafortis) December 29, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    I just have to say THANK YOU FOR THIS. The one that’s really getting my goat right now is the tendency to add unnecessary hyphens to phrases like “1 in 3 people cannot use punctuation properly”–so it becomes “1-in-3 people.” AAAGGGHHH. I’ve had so-called copy editors change my CORRECT punctuation in this case to make it wrong, and that makes me want to kick something.

    Anyway. I’m glad I’m not the only one annoyed by this.

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