Saturday, 31 May 2014

To Hyphenate or Not To Hyphenate

While I'm in Goalden Sky limbo (Keith's about to put the description on the back cover!), I thought I'd blog about proof-reading. Loathsome, loathsome proof-reading, the necessary evil of writing a book.

It's true what they say about English. When we speak our own language, we take it for granted. I'm from a city, Liverpool, which has its own unique take on it, with wonderful colloquialism, regional accent and slang, but it was when I started writing seriously I began to appreciate the claim that English is probably one of the hardest - if not the hardest - language in the world to learn. I realised then that I'd taken it for granted all my life. Derived from the likes of French, Latin, Greek and Saxon, it is in fact a very odd, contradictory language in a way. We've done things to it we probably shouldn't have. No wonder people from overseas have a job getting to grips with it! I'm not too sure about the likes of French (of which my standard is O level), or Spanish or Greek (in which my granddad was fluent because he was from Greece), or any other non-English speaking nation, but I think English is about the only language where we play about with it far too much, confusing ourselves as well as visitors to our shores. It's full of homophones, those annoying words which sound the same but we spell differently:


and so on.

In my day job I audio type clinic letters for doctors. I'm forever inserting commas or semicolons to break up their long-winded sentences.

I'm in the process of writing self-critiques of my work on my website, and when I come to Goalden Girl I'll kick myself up the backside. It was the first book I self-published and the one where I found out to my chagrin I wasn't the great English language scholar I'd always prided myself on being. I used words I'd spoken in everyday life, but which I'd never actually seen written down in print. More of that in the critique. Now, five books on I have adapted and toned the craft of careful spelling of uncommon words with the help of a good dictionary, checking, double-checking and consistency, not only with spelling, but also with the use of punctuation and homophones: those annoying words which sound the same as another word but which are spelt differently. Then there's the UK v rest of the world spellings and alternatives. Kind of got those off pat, to be fair.

Where I do fall down all the time is with hyphenation.

When do you hyphenate? When do you not hyphenate? Can you go mad with hyphenation? I do sometimes. That's why I keep my dictionary close by (I like Collins online) - and then you find out that some dictionaries will hyphenate and some won't! These are the words I used to like hyphenating:

living room
changing room
dressing gown
washing machine

to name but a few, but Collins states they're not hyphenated words, so I've taken the hyphens out. Chambers says they are hyphenated words, and it also says 'dressing gown' is one word!

I always use the hyphen after words like self (like in self-publish) and half  (as in half-past three). I know they're correct because that's how I've always seen them written down, but I've never seen quarter past written with a hyphen and it isn't in the dictionary. Would it be inconsistent to have half- and not quarter-? Or should I leave it as just half and quarter (actually I decided to hyphenate both!)

Kick-off is hyphenated when talking about the football, unless used in the context of someone kicking off when they're on one: 'Portia would probably kick off if she didn't get chosen for the team.' (In the Goalden books Portia tends to kick off quite a lot, she's that kind of kid!)

But why isn't semicolon hyphenated like semi-detached is? See what I mean? Weird language!

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