Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Hyphen, we hardly knew ye

The world of punctuation is in flux, as is every other world we know of. The steady-state model of the universe is gone with the solar wind, and so we are painfully aware that the only constant is change.

That doesn't mean we have to like it. On the whole, making a friend of change is a good approach to life, but, remember, everything in moderation. I, for one, am vexed by the disappearance of the hyphen. It's such a useful little mark. Why is it headed for the linguistic dustbin?

Well, for one thing, the Associated Press says so. The AP Stylebook recently caved to anti-hyphen trends and changed its position, vis-a-vis e-mail. After years of instructing journalists to use the hyphen, they now decree that, from now on, e-mail is email. What's next, AP? "You" becomes "u"? Stop this bus! I want to get off.

Here are a few examples showing the worth of the missing hyphen: A news report (okay, a gossip report) gave us this bit of confusion—"Bristol Palin faced off with an angry bargoer at Saddle Ranch bar and restaurant in West Hollywood Thursday night." Bargoer? I got there eventually, but wouldn't "bar-goer" have been a bit clearer?

This from a blogger: "Not a Whole Foods fan here, by the way. It reminds me too much of food coops. I have hated food coops since circa 1969." I know what chicken coops are, but food coops are a mystery. Food co-ops, on the other hand, I'm aware of. I just can't face that much produce being thrust at me each week.

I ran across a column with this headline—"Reinter the death tax." That one took a few more blinks before my brain said, "Oh, re-inter. I get it."

Readers, unite. The hyphen is our friend. Let's show it some love.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Parallel Bars at the Language Olympics

The parallel bars event showcases those compact male gymnasts swinging, doing seemingly impossible handstands and generally showing off their upper body strength. The key to the equipment is that the bars need to be, as the name suggests, parallel. A little off and none of those moves would work.

There's something called parallelism in grammar, too. Violations make us look as awkward as Paul Hamm would on non-parallel bars. I'm blowing the whistle on a couple of violators I caught recently.

The first was in a blogger's profile, where she described herself as "a mother of 3 girls and a wife of 17 years." This is a new concept for me, but I have to admit that Married to Time sounds like a pretty good novel title. Now all I have to do is figure out a plot to go with it. There's always a snag.

The second instance was, no doubt, on purpose, but I found it disturbing, nonetheless. My paper bag from Chick-fil-A says in big, bold letters "Serving Chicken and Our Community." Maybe it was a joke of sorts, but the text that followed did not contain any humor that I detected. Noticing that as I drove away, I accelerated a bit more than usual. It seemed in my interest to get out of there before I ended up on the menu.

Hey, Chick-fil-A management, those cows are saying "eat more chicken," not the community! Let's just concentrate on that, okay?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Speaking of totally awesome awesomeness

I recently read an article wondering why "awesome" took over the world and now, Khaddafy-like, refuses to relinquish power. The writer—Robert Lane Greene, business correspondent for The Economist—figures the word gained currency in its present meaning sometime before 1980, as it appeared in The Official Preppy Handbook published that year.

It doesn't seem to me to go back that far, but, no doubt, that's because I don't live on either East or West Coast, and trends take their time penetrating the hinterland. Still, we have been declaring things to be awesome for a long time now.

I detect an encouraging change, however. These days, I hear "awesome" used in a somewhat ironic way. That's generally the angle I take on it. When someone does something particularly stupid (that's usually me, by the way), the cry goes up, "That was AWESOME!" If irony has to be deployed, can abandonment of "awesome" be far behind?

Sure, it may stay with us until Doomsday Day (which, I hear, really will be awesome), but I'm hoping for a little adjectival diversity in the future. That would be awesome.