or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, February 06, 2006


Here, in a nutshell, is why I am such a hard-ass about hyphens.

I wake up at 6:30 this morning (late, for me) and, naturally, sit down in front of my computer for a little browsing before I have to get ready for work. I'm not one hundred per cent awake, but I'm ambulatory. The first site I go to is the essential Boingboing.net, and this is the first thing I see.

And I stare at it and stare at it, and I can't make any sense of the picture. Because "set" is a verb, and "top" is an adjective, and "Set Top Cop" looks like the first part of a sentence, and how the hell am I supposed to parse this thing when there's a colon after the noun? "Set the top cop...to stun?" After woozily staring it at for another five or ten seconds, it finally--finally!--occurs to me that, in fact, the poster ought to have read "Set-Top Cop".

The hyphen makes all the difference in the world. It transforms words into other words, other parts of speech, and therefore it clarifies things. I shouldn't have to stop and stare at a piece of writing and wonder whether it's correct (or what the hell it means): that's the writer's job, not the reader's. If they had used that damned hyphen in the first place, I wouldn't have had my strange, disorienting early-morning experience, and the world would be a (slightly but measurably) better place.


Blogger Tony Pius said...

I don't know if you read McSweeney's, but in case you haven't seen this yet: The Elements of Spam, "Excerpts courtesy of William Strunk Jr., E.B. White, and Generouss Q. Factotum." Not to be missed.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006 12:40:00 PM  
Blogger pyramus said...

I keep forgetting to go to the website, for some reason. There's often great stuff there, and The Elements of Spam is one of them. Thanks for the link.

Thursday, February 09, 2006 10:59:00 PM  

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