Don't confuse the hyphen (-) with the dash (—).
Etymology:From the Greek, a sign indicating a compound or two words that are read as one
Examples and Observations:
- "The hyphen continues to serve us, often by removing ambiguity from sentences. . . . Here are some expressions whose ambiguity can be removed by a hyphen: old furniture dealer, hot cow’s milk, the minister met small businessmen, 30 odd members, a little known city, recovered the sofa, man eating tiger. Lynne Truss points to the different meanings of 'extra marital sex' with and without a hyphen."
(V.R. Narayanaswami, "Euro Guide to the Use of Hyphens." Livemint.com, August 14, 2012)
- "I did not achieve this position in life by having some snot-nosed punk leave my cheese out in the wind."
(Jeffrey Jones as Principal Ed Rooney, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, 1986)
- "The mourners on the front benches sat in a blue-serge, black-crepe-dress gloom."
(Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 1970)
- "Yesterday, rain-fog; today, frost-mist. But how fascinating each."
(Fiona Macleod, "At the Turn of the Year," 1903)
- "I'm part of the blame-America-last crowd."
- "New truth is always a go-between, a smoother-over of transitions."
- "Lord Emsworth belonged to the people-like-to-be-left-alone-to-amuse-themselves-when-they-come-to-a-place school of hosts."
(P.G. Wodehouse, Something Fresh, 1915)
- "The hyphen is the most un-American thing in the world."
(President Woodrow Wilson)
- Guidelines for Using Hyphens
"The use of hyphens in compounds and complex words involves a number of different rules, and practice is changing, with fewer hyphens present in contemporary usage. For example, compound words may be written as separate words (post box), hyphenated (post-box) or written as one word (postbox).
"Particular prefixes regularly involve a hyphen (e.g. ex-minister, post-war, self-interest, quasi-public).
"Hyphens are normally used in compounds in which the pre-head item is a single capital letter (e.g. U-turn, X-ray), and hyphens are sometimes needed to disambiguate certain words (e.g. re-form = form again, reform = change radically).
"In numerically modified adjectives, all modifying elements are hyphenated. Note that these forms are only used attributively (e.g. an eighteen-year-old girl, a twenty-ton truck, a twenty-four hour flight)."
(R. Carter and M. McCarthy, Cambridge Grammar of English. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2006)
- Churchill on Hyphens
"One must regard the hyphen as a blemish to be avoided wherever possible. Where a composite word is used it is inevitable, but . . . [my] feeling is that you may run them together or leave them apart, except when nature revolts."
(Winston Churchill, to his long-time secretary Eddie Marsh, 1934)
- The Lighter Side of Hyphens
"I'll have the misspelled Caesar salad and the improperly hyphenated veal osso-buco."
(restaurant patron to a waiter, cartoon in The New Yorker, June 3, 2002)
Reggie: The program sets them up with a fair income, and a nice little house. White, with a walk-in closet. . . . Well, write it down. "Walk-in closet."
Roy: Is "walk in" hyphenated?
(Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones in The Client, 1994)
Bartender: Who would you be?
Wilson: High-Spade Frankie Wilson--with a hyphen. That's what I sit on when I get tired.
(Winchester '73, 1950)