Reported in the Sydney Morning Herald today, the new edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary is doing away with hyphens. The dictionary claims that “People are not confident about using hyphens any more”. As if that’s a reason to do away with them. It’s all a bit 1984 double plus bad if you ask me. And the Sydney Morning Herald went so far as to write that quote thusly: “People are not confident about using hyphens anymore”. Look at the last word. It’s an outrage.

The dictionary apparently blames electronic communication and its penchant for speed over grammatical correctness. So apparently the dictionary is going to lie down and take it from the speed freaks that can’t be bothered to write correctly. They might just as well release a dictionary with a single page that says, “What do we care? Spell it how you like” and be done with it.

Angus Stevenson, editor of the new edition of the Shorter OED, claims that, “We are not saying it should be dropped completely.” Why take it out then? He claims to be simply “reflecting widespread everyday use”. There are two words in the middle of that sentence that may or may not require a hyphen. No point in checking for them in the Shorter OED though.

On the upside, hyphenated words aren’t allowed in the greatest of all games, Scrabble. At least now, armed with a copy of the Shorter OED, you can score with all new words. For example, you can now use pigeonhole, leapfrog, chickpea, lowlife or touchline.

The Altar of the Hopeless Wordist
J W Spears & Sons, hallowed be thy name.
Toymaker Mattel is thy parent company, etc.

But don’t get carried away. A lot of the hyphenated words have simply had the hyphen removed and are now two words. Things like fig leaf, hobby horse, test tube and water bed. I wonder what completely arbitrary system was used to decide which words to contract and which to separate. Ah well, language evolves around us once again.