The hyphen is certainly a contender for “least used punctuation mark”, and it hasn’t exactly attracted many fans over the years, either. Winston Churchill once said hyphens were “a blemish to be avoided wherever possible”, and Woodrow Wilson remarked that the hyphen was “the most un-American thing in the world”. Yes, there was indeed a hyphen in his sentence.
But, as much as people hate on the hyphen – largely because of sentence additions such as this – you can’t get rid of the old boy. Why? Because there are some phrases that cannot exist without the hyphen. Take the following for example:
- The slow moving people trundled down the street.
At first glance you might think this sentence looks fine and dandy. But look again. Do I mean people moving slowly, or am I referring to people moving things; perhaps from my house to another?
The hyphen, dear reader, stops this trifling confusion dead in its tracks.
- The slow-moving people trundled down the street.
The hyphen is a useful tool for joining words together to aid understanding. The hyphen keeps words neatly apart where necessary. It is also devilishly useful for making sure words like coat-tail don’t become unpronounceable single words, even though MS Word thinks it shouldn’t be hyphenated.
So just how many more missing hyphens could end up making you look like a silly sausage? The answer, quite frankly, is a lot. And so, in this post, we explore ten of the silliest hyphen errors we’ve come across to date.
1. Odd People
Two hundred odd members of the university marched in protest.
Really? What! All of them were odd? Were they wearing silly outfits?
Oh, you mean there were approximately two hundred of them.
Two hundred-odd members of the university marched in protest.
2. The Hair Remover Serial Killer
The case of the dangerous hair remover was really quite disturbing.
Yes. Was it a male or female hairdresser the police caught in the end?
What an earth are you on about?
Oh, sorry, you meant…
The case of the dangerous hair-remover was really quite disturbing.
For a moment there I thought you were referring to that serial killer who worked in a salon as a hair remover.
3. Lucky Man or Unlucky Lady?
Did you hear that Lawrence is having extra marital sex?
I didn’t. That’s fantastic. I wish my Rita would allow for such a treat.
No. I meant that Lawrence is having sex outside of his marriage.
Well why didn’t you make that clear you silly sausage!
Did you hear that Lawrence is having extra-marital sex?
4. Poor Little Used Car
I saw Bob the other day driving his little used car.
I know. He really should have bought a new one. He’s such a miser sometimes.
Oh. You meant he gets little use out of his car. Sorry, my bad.
I saw Bob the other day driving his little-used car.
5. The Reformed Band
The gig was amazing last night. It’s such great news that the band reformed.
Why, were they all on drugs?
What? They recently got back together after ten years apart.
Well then. You should have written:
The gig was amazing last night. It’s such great news that the band re-formed.
6. Recover the Old Book
This book is so old it needs recovering.
Is it sick? Will the book make it through the night?
What are you on about?
Oh, you mean you would like to put a new cover on the book.
This book is so old it needs re-covering.
7. The Well Behaved Dog
I have a well behaved dog.
Well, I’m glad he is in good health and still minding his manners.
Oh, silly me! You meant your dog is well-behaved.
I have a well-behaved dog.
8. Resigning The Petition
Man, that office is so inefficient. They lost the petition and made everyone resign.
That’s terrible. I can’t believe people were forced to quit over their error.
Oh you mean re-sign the petition, right?
Man, that office is so inefficient. They lost the petition and everyone had to re-sign.
9. The Black Cab Driver
The black cab driver that picked me up from the airport was such a friendly guy.
Really, where was originally from, and what color car was he driving?
Oh…He was a black-cab driver. Not a black cab driver. Sorry, you’re confusing me.
The black-cab driver that picked me up from the airport was such a great guy.
10. The Light Hairy Man
My granddad was a light haired man.
Really. It’s unusual to keep so much hair into ones old age. Good that he kept his weight down, too.
What are you talking about? He was bald and fat!
Oh! You meant he had light hair. Sorry. Next time use a hyphen!
My granddad was a light-haired man.
An old Oxford University Press style guide once stated, “If you take hyphens seriously you will surely go mad”. And after reading this post you probably will. No longer will you be able to read an article or book without scanning for missing and misplaced hyphens. But what would you rather; be a little insane, or end up looking like a silly sausage to those reading your writing.
Don’t hate on the hyphen like Churchill and Woodrow. Embrace it - because as you have seen from the ten examples above, without it, confusion wreaks havoc amidst the written word.
By the way, for the record, silly sausage is an old English saying. It’s in the same vein as “silly sod” or “silly Billy”, except I used “sausage” so as not to offend anyone called Billy who might be reading.
Toodle pip! (Goodbye).