Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Dividing Words--and the Demise of the Hyphen

I posted a silly poem on Facebook the other day, a poem about how the "younger generations" don't know--or even really need to know--the rules for dividing words at the ends of lines. This was a skill that earlier generations (like mine) needed because so much of what we did was either handwritten or typewritten, and on a typewriter you can stop, divide the word, hit "hyphen," and finish the word on the next line. Computer word-processors have pretty much eliminated the need for that: They just end each line with a full word, then move to the next line.

REVELATIONI just checked Word and discovered that you can set it to hyphenate (hyphenation options are under Page Layout). Below, I've reproduced the third paragraph from A Tale of Two Cities, showing in red the words that Word hyphenated.

So you can use hyphenation in Word if you wish (it has automatic and manual settings)--but I'm guessing most people won't. Hell, I didn't even know you could until just now!

So what were the rules we had to learn back in the pre-computer days?

In my copy of The Plain English Handbook (1972) here's what I find: When it is necessary to divide a word at the end of a line, the division should be made between syllables, and a hyphen should be placed at the end of the line. Never place a hyphen at the beginning of a line. Always check the dictionary for correct syllabication of English words (99).

Okay, that's pretty basic--and incomplete. You can't always divide between syllables. I checked the first grammar book I used when I began my teaching career with 7th graders in 1966 (Language for Daily Use, 1965), and here's all it says: Use a hyphen to divide words between syllables at the end of a line (427). Still incomplete.

But good old Warriner's English Grammar and Composition (Complete Course), spells it out.

28f. Divide a word at the end of a line between pronounceable parts only. One-syllable words should never be divided.

28g. A word having double consonants should be divided between the consonants. (recom-mend, hap-py).
Words like bill-ing and toss-ing are exceptions.

28h. Do not divide a word so that single letter stands alone. If possible do not divide a word so that only two letters are carried over to the next line. (pri-vacy, not priva-cy)

28i. Words having prefixes and suffixes should usually be divided between the prefix and the root of the word or between the root of the word and the suffix.

And the final usage manual I used with students--Hacker's Rules for Writers, 2000 edition--repeats these rules and exceptions--and adds this: To divide long e-mail and Internet addresses, do not use a hyphen (because a hyphen could appear to be part of the address).

So there you go ... all the rules you never need to know since Word will perform these functions for you.


Here's the silly Facebook poem I mentioned ...

That Hyphen Thing

These younger generations have
It easy—no debate.
For they no longer need to know
How they should hyphenate.

When I was younger—long ago!—
All students learned in schools
Dividing words at ends of lines—
Those hyphenation rules.

We had to know the syllables—
And what exceptions were.
Oh, hyphenation made us wise—
Or “sage,” if you prefer.

Computers, though, have ended that—
They don’t divide at all.
Instead, they start another line—
I stagger at the gall!

The difference ’twixt will and shall
And how to hyphenate?
And lie and lay—and who and whom
Oh, these have made us great! 

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