Drawing on the evidence of the Oxford Reading Programme and our two–billion–word Oxford English Corpus, we removed something like 16,000 hyphens from the text of the Shorter. So it's double bass, not double–bass, ice cream not ice–cream, makeover instead of make–over, and postmodern rather than post–modern. [Italics added because it was driving me crazy that Oxford hadn't marked the self-referential use of these words!]Now, I neither have the two editions of the Shorter Oxford, nor would I have the time to look up all of the de-hyphenated words if I did have them, but it's long been my impression that British dictionaries (and possibly BrE speakers--we'll come back to this below) and American dictionaries (and speakers?) differ in their relationships with hyphens. When the Association of British Scrabble Players switched over to the international dictionary (including the former US and UK Scrabble dictionaries), one thing that struck a lot of players was how many more verbs could take the re- prefix. (As in relocate or reassemble. I'm afraid I don't still have my old dictionary to tell you which ones weren't allowed.) This was in part because of the BrE tendency to put hyphens between the prefix and the base verb, especially in cases in which not to do so would involve the same letter repeated twice at the end of the prefix and the beginning of the base word. So, BrE prefers re-elect, which is happy without a hyphen in AmE: reelect. The same thing happens with the prefix co-, especially before another o, so that BrE tends to prefer co-ordinate and co-operate, whereas AmE prefers coordinate and cooperate. So, I wondered, do the changes in the Shorter Oxford reflect more AmE-like use of hyphens? I found the following examples of de-hyphenated words in the Shorter Oxford 6 from news items and commentaries about the change: this BBC article, this New York Times article, World Wide Words and the aforelinked OUP press release. Then I compared them to the American Heritage Dictionary, which happens to be on my desk.
|Shorter Oxford 5 (2002)||Shorter Oxford 6 (2007)||American Heritage 4 (2000)|
|fig-leaf||fig leaf||fig leaf|
|double-bass||double bass||double bass|
|ice-cream||ice cream||ice cream|
|fire-drill||fire drill||fire drill|
|test-tube||test tube||test tube|
The bold entries in the table show the three cases in which the change in SOED6 is a change in the opposite direction from the AHD4 entry. (And I have to take issue with the AHD's one-word status for hobby horse. Not how I would spell it. I'm less-than-sure about potbelly too.)
Does this mean that BrE is becoming more like AmE?
NOT NECESSARILY!These changes probably have at least as much to do with the SOED looking more carefully at how these words appear in printed language as they do with any actual language change. After all, there have been only five years between the editions--that's an awful lot of hyphens to bite the dust in such a short time. The NYT article notes, "That ice cream and bumblebee ever had hyphens to begin with suggests an excess of fussiness on the part of older lexicographers" and BrE-speaker Michael Quinion at World-Wide Words says, "The new SOED lists many hyphenless words such as leapfrog, bumblebee, crybaby, pigeonhole, lowlife, and upmarket, which will be a relief to those of us who have been spelling them like that all along."
I do get the feeling, however, (and this is just a feeling) that BrE favo(u)rs keeping words more separate. We can describe a hierarchy of 'one-wordiness' or 'joined-up-ed-ness' of English compound nouns, like this:
fully integrated: lifeboat, prejudgeUsing this hierarchy, I'd suppose that BrE writing tends toward(s) non-integration--that is to say, keeping words separate, or at least hyphenated, whereas AmE is happier to have more fully integrated compounds. It's just a hypothesis, though, and you're welcome to test it. (Hey, final-year students! There's a project!) Part of the reason I've formed this hypothesis is the widespread habit in BrE writing of treating some prefixes as separate words. Here are some examples, in which in AmE I'd have to have at least a hyphen, if not a single word, but which one sees not infrequently as separate words in BrE:
semi-integrated: sit-in, semi-integrated
not integrated: ice cream, throw up
over- as a verb prefixAnd so forth. This is the kind of thing I find myself 'correcting' constantly in student work in the UK (never as much of a problem in the US), so much so that I started to wonder whether I was the one in the wrong in my new dialect-land (as has happened before). But no, my New Oxford Dictionary of English treats all of these as prefixes, requiring hyphens or full integration with the base word. Fowler's Modern English Usage (3rd edn) doesn't mention the writing of prefixes as separate words, and in its entry on hyphens recommends the use of hyphens with prefixes--as opposed to full integration--in the cases where the prefix joins to a proper name (anti-Darwin) or where the same letter is repeated (re-elect) or an ambiguity ensues (as in the pro-verb/proverb case that I mentioned a while ago).
On the other hand, children are very good at expressing what motivates them in a learning context but perhaps over egg the custard a little when it comes to saying that what they find boring. --Scaife & Rogers, 'Kids as Informants'
post- as a prefix meaning 'after'
Public Health Advice ? Post Flood
Before re-occupying your home
The flood water affecting your home or other property may have been contaminated with sewage and other contaminants... --Bridgnorth District Council
sub- as a prefix meaning 'below'
Sub normal growth rate (usually a height velocity below the 25th centile usually. equates to less than 5 cm per year in a pre pubertal child). --from an NHS [Wales] diagnostic guide
But before you go any further in thinking about this, I give you the following cautionary quotation, cited on the American Dialect Society e-list recently:
If you take hyphens seriously you will surely go mad.
--John Benbow, Manuscript and Proof, 1937