or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, December 07, 2007

Editing Time

From a Slate.com review of portable DVD players:

And the player shorts you in every other sense, with just two-and-a-half hours of battery life and no WMA or MPEG compatibility. The on-panel controls are some of the least functional of the bunch. You can't fast-forward or reverse on the unit, and the volume controls are plus/minus buttons, making swift adjustments impossible.

The writer has at least some idea of how to use a hyphen. "On-panel" is correct, because it's a two-word phrase being concatenated into a one-word adjective. (It's really a three-word phrase: "on the panel". When we turn such things into adjectives, we usually delete the definite article, though not always: "on-the-run" as an adjective requires the article.) "Fast-forward" is dicier, because you don't, technically, need the hyphen, but since it clarifies the situation--it yokes the two words together into a single name for the button--I'd allow it if the writer wanted to defend it.

"Two-and-a-half hours", though. What the hell is that?

If you have an event that lasts for one hundred and fifty minutes, then you may express this in one of two ways: "The movie lasted for two and a half hours", or "It's a two-and-a-half-hour movie". The first is a noun phrase, and it doesn't take any hyphens at all. The second is an attributive adjective (which is to say that, as is almost invariable in English, it precedes the noun it's modifying), and it must be hyphenated in toto. It's all or nothing in English.

The usage in question is not an adjective but a noun, and therefore is unhyphenated, and therefore is wrong.


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