THURSDAY MORNING COFFEE – Hyphenate everything? CMoS woes.


Going through the edits of my upcoming release, “Sire,” wasn’t too bad because I have good editors who are nice people. I feel a need to say this up front (not up-front), because I’m going to pick a bone with the venerable and slavishly followed Chicago Manual of Style (CMoS).

If you write or edit, you know that your book will need a certain sense of internal cohesion. Consistency, if you will. This sense of consistency prevents the reader for looking up from the page and saying, “What the heck?” Paragraphing, punctuation, the way you treat quotes or italics, as well as the way you choose to bend (or follow) accepted grammar rules will lead the mind of your reader without confusion or disruption.

I know my publisher follows the CMoS. I have a copy myself, and I occasionally even refer to it. The problem, as language evolves, are the stern grammarians who are employed by the CMoS to keep grammar rules nice and tidy. Forced industry-wide changes make it prudent for the rest of us to buy updated copies of this venerable doorstop and, incidentally, make blanket decisions that eventually screw up the tools of the writer’s trade: words.

As I plowed through the edits and flowed through “Accept change” to “STET” with the occasional explanation, a pattern emerged. The stern grammarians at CMoS have, apparently, decided that certain turns of phrase have become so devoid of their original meaning, they might as well be adjectives. And if they are adjectives, they can’t just stand on their own. They have to be connected using a hyphen. Even though this percept is logical on the surface, it can reach a level where a hyphen is not desired (words are used in their original meaning, not as a coined phrase,) or the conglomerate looks so butt ugly, you’ll be using the pages of your book as toiletpaper just to cover it up. This doesn’t apply to just the common turns of phrase like toe-to-toe or back-to-back. Apparently, you’re supposed to hyphenate the shit out of your soon-to-be-one-word manuscript.

I call upon thee, brothers and sisters at arms! Raise your erasers and join the the resistance against promiscuous hyphenation! Tell those stern grammarians at CMoS that we, not they, are the makers and shapers of language, and if they want to sell more copies, they should write a better book. We’ll stand back to back. We’ll fight them the to toe! (Not back-to-back or toe-to-toe. I plain refuse.)

Yes! Not a stray hyphen in sight! Hyphens should be neutered like stray cats and dogs, lovingly adopted when you know your manuscript has space for them – but only when you know you’re willing and able to give them loving care.

This entry was posted in Chicago Manual of Style, CMoS, editors, hyphenation, protest, ridiculous, screw grammar, Thursday Morning Coffee Blog, writers and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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