There has been a sense of foreboding on the mean streets of Richmond lately. Rumours were circulating about the future of the Tiger’s full forward with the golden boot, Jack Riewoldt. His contract finishes this year and we feared he would head north to Sydney and the cashed up GWS club.
Imagine my consternation when I received the email “Reiwoldt resigns”. Oh no! I thought, we’re doing so well this season and now he’s gone and quit (possibly to pursue his dream of becoming a CanCan dancer, if this photo is any indication).
Fortunately it was bad punctuation, not bad news, because, glory be, our Jack has re-signed with Richmond, choosing club loyalty over a fatter paycheck. But the real question is, why are people so slack about using hyphens? It is just one keystroke.
It’s true that hyphenation is a topic guaranteed to get grammarians hot under the collar but that little line is such a handy critter.
It helps us understand which verb we mean – as in the case of Reiwoldt above (and the horizontal line I just used then is a dash not a hyphen, but that’s a whole other story). Likewise, it makes a difference whether Reiwoldt has to give a talk while re-presenting the team (because the photographers were too slow to get the pix first time around) or when he is representing the team because none of his mates showed up.
It stops us confusing verbs with nouns. For example there is no point sending my flyer about the cruelty of keeping hens in cages to the chicken coop because they already understand chook welfare, but I might get a response if I send it to the chicken co-op and ask them to change their ways.
It allows us a more accurate view of the image being described, so that we know the white-bearded dragon (which has a white beard and grey body) doesn’t look at all like the white bearded dragon (which is white all over and has a beard). We could argue about putting a comma in there too!
It’s also important to distinguish between out-of-control dog-owners and out-of-control-dog owners especially if you’re thinking about pressing charges.
However, to quote the great EB WhIte, he of the iconic Elements-of-Style Strunk-and-White fame:
Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar.