Monday, July 16, 2012

ipse dixit (allegedly)

1. Mr. Chicago Hates Hyphens

What’s wrong with hyphens?  Mr. Chicago hates them, loathes them, despises them.  He hates them so much that he wouldn’t let me refer to Jesus’s original audience as “Palestine-dwellers,” but instead insisted on “Palestinians.”  (Palestinians?!  I’ll get hate mail!)  He also wants me to use “words” like nonmoral, nonillusionistic, nonmagical, noncomic, noncraft, nonformative, noncentrality, nonmythical, semimythical, counterposition, antireferential, pseudoimmortality, and selffashioning (all of which get squiggly red lines from Microsoft Word.)  I sometimes think he has a secret desire to turn English into German.  An Englishintogermanconvertingdesire.

Then again, he regularly wants me to glue the prefix onto the word, even where the resulting monster looks like it should sound different: firsthand, preemptively, preexisting, preestablished, cooperative.  (Yes, I know what the New Yorker does with those; the hörror, the hörror.)

Joshua Landy on the CMOS.  If you are a mere reader of a text, you probably read right along without giving the hyphens much mind. Little knowing that there is blood on the dining room floor. Those hyphens didn't just happen to end up on the page - somebody had to FIGHT for them.

Interestingly, or not so very. In my most recent book a character used the word 'cock-eyed'. That is, the book reposed in the safety of my hard drive for over a decade with 'cock-eyed', all hyphenated and all. I then rashly permitted a publisher to share the book with the public; needless to say, this hyphen was immediately spotted as a feature of the text best NOT shared with the masses.  (Fucking women from behind through a hole in the wall, no problem.  HYPHEN?  The horror.  Or, as we have now learned to say, the hörror. (Might Joshua Landy be a pseudonym of Nico Muhly? I think we should be told.))

How did I defend this hyphen, you ask. Ah. I rode my bicycle to the Staatsbibliothek, which has an excellent supply of dictionaries of the English language. The OED, bless it, gives examples. Including one from Hemingway, complete with hyphen. Ha! Fine. I bicycled home. (Investment in hyphen-preservation, 90 minutes. 5399 seconds more than the single second required to type the thing in the first place. But OK, OK, OK.)  I explained to the proofreader that Hemingway had vouched for the hyphen.  (Look, if the fact that DeWitt liked the hyphen was good enough, we wouldn't have been having the discussion.)

You may perhaps have spotted the problem with this line of argument.

Look. If the OED cites a line from Hemingway as using 'cock-eyed' with a hyphen, it is presumably consulting a published text by the great man.  A text, in other words, that has been through the machinery of publication. And as we know to our cost, what Hemingway actually happened to like, the usage of Hemingway, is not something for which the published text offers reliable evidence. He MAY have liked it. Or somebody may have slipped it in when he wasn't looking. Or maybe he liked it and was forced to do battle for the bloody hyphen - which in fact, after all, would tell us more about the state of the language at the time than the mere appearance of a particular form in the text.  We don't actually know.  (I wouldn't necessarily use a hyphen in all the cases where Mr Landy would, but I would be happier in a world where texts published under his name could be assumed to represent his usage.)

Mr Landy has more to say on copy-editing and such, here.


tony said...
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tony said...

Consider a chapter with your hyphen, which you care deeply about, and another "error" that sins against Mr. Chicago, could go either way, and you inserted to draw the editor's eye. The editor returns two corrections. You challenge both but agree to change the second. You both emerge happy and the text is published in the form you desire.