The Oxford or serial comma is one of the more divisive parts of the English language (even more so than the singular they), and it looks like the hyphen will be relegated to the same battlefield.
Last week the AP updated its style guide and sorta-but-not-quite-killed the rule on hyphens:
We updated our hyphen guidance this year to say no hyphen is needed in a compound modifier if the modifier is commonly recognized as one phrase, and if the meaning is clear and unambiguous without the hyphen.
One example is first quarter touchdown. pic.twitter.com/8AJc0zCwJm
— AP Stylebook (@APStylebook) August 28, 2019
The talk around the watercooler is that this is going to cause endless confusion. There are all sorts of people making witty remarks about it online, and I was all set to join them, but then I started thinking about what this rule really meant.
The AP didn’t kill the hyphen rule and they didn’t come up with a new standard. Instead, they have normalized what everyone was already doing anyway.
Let me put it this way. Have you ever written a sentence and agonized over whether you need to include a hyphen? The AP just said that if your sentence is clear and understandable without the hyphen then it’s fine and you don’t have to obsess over the hyphen.
Sorry if this spoils your fun at the AP’s expense, but their decision is just too sensible for me to poke fun at. That said, I can easily imagine hyphen use becoming an element of style that is as bitterly fought over as the Oxford comma. There will be those why decry its use when not needed, and those who insist it must always be used.
Which group do you fall in to?