Say Good-Bye. Or Is That … Goodbye?

Even Newsweek found it worthy this past week of notice: the new edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary has removed hyphens from 16,000 words. Not eactly Newsweek‘s usual cup of tea; but there it is. Hyphens – or, perhaps, the lack thereof – make headlines.

The dictionary committed what Brian Brailer in the article termed “punctuational genocide,” in some cases closing up the word by removing the hyphen, in other instances replacing the hyphen with a space.

This sort of thing usually gets me livid; I’m conservative in only one area of my life, and that’s language. Change is bad! I screech with each linguistic step forward. If it was good enough for my grandmother …

But the Newsweek columnist is right in this instance: there’s no need for me to get my knickers in a twist, as the English would say. Because that’s what this change is about: the English – as differentiated from American – style of writing. And as an American, I’m not particularly perturbed at changes to expressions I never used.

And it does open up a larger question: how language, despite my discomfort with change, is about keeping up with life. Language communicates, describes, enables connections; and that can only happen if it is alive, a living tool.

In fact, I myself embraced some changes before they could discomfit me: in a recent style guide I wrote, I went ahead and closed up email, emessaging, and emarketing. I can read the moving finger, the writing on the wall, and I may as well get used to it now.

Change is good. It’s my new mantra … and it’s taking me way beyond the elements of style!

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