Carpe Weekend?: Grammar Snob VI: Grinching forward
By Jason Freeman email@example.com January 23, 2013 5:01PM
Jason Freeman is no Jim Carrey, pictured here as the titular character in the 2000 movie "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." | Photo courtesy of Universal Studios
During the holidays, a friend recommended I drop the nickname I’ve held for nearly two years and replace it with something more seasonal.
Instead of Grammar Snob, which can summon images of closed-minded intellectualism, she suggested I go by the holiday-themed moniker Grammar Grinch in honor of the Dr. Seuss book “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” (Random House Books for Young Readers)
While I like the sound of all those G’s jammed together, I cringe at the thought of readers associating my name with a pessimistic recluse whose only claim to fame was absconding with yuletide cheer.
Luckily for me, December has given way to January, and I’m no longer obliged to entertain any Seuss-centric changes to my title.
So feel free to continue calling me the Grammar Snob, at least until Easter rolls around and someone thinks of an alternate nickname alluding to bunny rabbits or colored chicken eggs.
Since it’s been nearly 10 months since I last aggravated the masses with my excessively pretentious attention to English syntax, I figured I’d come out of hibernation to discuss a few things you should know about hyphens.
Consider it my belated Christmas present to you. Would a grinch do that?
In his book “The Associated Press Guide to Punctuation” (Basic Books), author Rene J. Cappon says, “The hyphen’s main job is to tell readers when combinations of two or more words should be understood as a single concept. The sole point is to insure clarity.”
Clarity, in fact, is the reason good grammar is important in general.
But when it comes to hyphens, whether to use one or not could be the difference between unblemished understanding or hilarious confusion.
Compound modifiers — two words that when put together alter a noun’s meaning — almost always are hyphenated to avoid ambiguous meanings.
Without a hyphen, a “comic-strip artist” would become someone who takes off his clothes while telling jokes — an interesting career choice, sure, but not one that has anything to do with drawing cartoons.
But not all compound modifiers require a hyphen such as “high school teacher.” When in doubt, consult a dictionary.
Examples: a holiday-themed moniker, a fur-covered Grinch.
Easy on the ‘ly’
Don’t use a hyphen after an adverb ending in “ly.”
Examples: an absurdly dressed man, historically accurate fiction, an extremely bright light.
Hyphen junior high
Keep hyphens in phrases that only give the last element.
Example: Seventh- and eighth-grade students participated in the program.
A capital crime
Use a hyphen when joining a word to a capital letter.
Examples: Only A-list celebrities attended the party; never drop the F-bomb in church.
Cappon points out that hyphens sometimes are there simply to avoid confusion.
“That’s why you hyphenate co-op,” he said.
“Also: While the landlord was recovering, workers re-covered the roof of his mansion. The sculptor was annoyed at having to re-form the lump of clay.”
For more information on the wonderful world of hyphens, I highly recommend Cappon’s book. It has seen me through many grammar crises.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my grammar columns as much as I’ve loved writing them. Perhaps we’ll meet again someday for Grammar Snob VII.
In the meantime, I have to get working on my plan to steal Valentine’s Day.