Hyphen This word comes from two Greek words together meaning ‘under one’, which gets nobody anywhere and merely prompts the reflection that argument by etymology only serves the purpose of intimidating ignorant antagonists. On, then. This is one more case in which matters have not improved since Fowler’s day, since he wrote in 1926: The chaos prevailing among writers or printers or both regarding the use of hyphens is discreditable to English education … The wrong use or wrong non-use of hyphens makes the words, if strictly interpreted, mean something different from what the writers intended. It is no adequate answer to such criticisms to say that actual misunderstanding is unlikely; to have to depend on one’s employer’s readiness to take the will for the deed is surely a humiliation that no decent craftsman should be willing to put up with. And so say all of us who may be reading this book. The references there to ‘printers’ needs updating to something like ‘editors’, meaning those who declare copy fit to print. Such people now often get it wrong by preserving in midcolumn a hyphen originally put at the end of a line to signal a word-break: inter-fere, say, is acceptable split between lines but not as part of a single line. This mistake is comparatively rare and seldom causes confusion; even so, time spent wondering whether an exactor may not be an ex-actor is time avoidably wasted. The hyphen is properly and necessarily used to join the halves of a two-word adjectival phrase, as in fair-haired children, last-ditch resistance, falling-down drunk, over-familiar reference. Breaches of this rule are rare and not troublesome. Hyphens are also required when a phrase of more than two words is used adjectivally, as in middle-of-the-road policy, too-good-to-be-true story, no-holds-barred contest. No hard-and-fast rule can be devised that lays down when a two-word phrase is to be hyphenated and when the two words are to be run into one, though there will be a rough consensus that, for example, book-plate and bookseller are each properly set out and that bookplate and book-seller might seem respectively new-fangled and fussy. A hyphen is not required when a normal adverb (i.e. one ending in -ly) plus an adjective or other modifier are used in an adjectival role, as in Jack’s equally detestable brother, a beautifully kept garden, her abnormally sensitive hearing. A hyphen is required, however, when the adverb lacks a final -ly, like well, ill, seldom, altogether or one of those words like tight and slow that double as adjectives. To avoid ambiguity here we must write a well-kept garden, an ill-considered objection, a tight-fisted policy. The commonest fault in the use of the hyphen, and the hardest to eradicate, is found when an adjectival phrase is used predicatively. So a gent may write of a hard-to-conquer mountain peak but not of a mountain peak that remains hard-to-conquer, an often-proposed solution but not of one that is often-proposed. For some reason this fault is especially common when numbers, including fractions, are concerned, and we read every other day of criminals being imprisoned for two-and-a-half years, a woman becoming a mother-of-three and even of some unfortunate being stabbed six-times. And the Tories have been in power for a decade-and-a-half. Finally, there seems no end to the list of common phrases that some berk will bung a superfluous hyphen into the middle of: artificial-leg, daily-help, false-teeth, taxi-firm, martial-law, rainy-day, airport-lounge, first-wicket, piano-concerto, lung-cancer, cavalry-regiment, overseas-service. I hope I need not add that of course one none the less writes of a false-teeth problem, a first-wicket stand, etc. The only guide is: omit the hyphen whenever possible, so avoid not only mechanically propelled vehicle users (a beauty from MEU) but also a man eating tiger. And no one is right and no-one is wrong.