What a difference a hyphen can make

WHILE the great and the good – and politicians – have been pondering on grave matters of state, I have been concerned as usual with punctuation. It is a real worry how standards have slipped in this subject. There was a golden age when schoolchildren wer

WHILE the great and the good - and politicians - have been pondering on grave matters of state, I have been concerned as usual with punctuation.

It is a real worry how standards have slipped in this subject.

There was a golden age when schoolchildren were taught to telling effect where apostrophes go and where they most definitely do not go. But much of that knowledge seems to have been lost as we have gone helter-skelter into a brave new technologically-driven world.

I see errors in punctuation and grammar every day in the media and no one seems to care. Why do people making these mistakes not know the difference between its and it's?


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Something else which irks me is the misuse of dashes and hyphens. To me, it is as easy to select the correct one as it is to fall off a log.

I was concerned this week that Gordon Brown might not realise when a hyphen had been used inappropriately.

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Image the scene - the Prime Minister is backed into a (rather comfortable) corner of 10 Downing Street with a justifiable claimant to the throne figuratively hammering on the door.

This has been going on for days and Gordon is getting desperate. What should he do? How can he overcome this problem which threatens to reduce his place in the history books to a footnote?

Finally, Gordon resolves to himself that there is nothing for it but to give up the position for which he had waited so long to occupy. He writes a note detailing his decision and puts his name to it.

Then he goes outside to tell the world. But as he is about to make the momentous announcement he spots someone waving a placard. It reads, "Re-sign as Prime Minister Mr Brown". Taking this as an omen, Gordon turns and walks back into No 10, ripping up the note as he goes and smiling that quirky little smile of his. And this was all because of a hyphen which should not have been there.

Getting back to the real world, does it make you fume when you are sitting in a queue of traffic, patiently waiting your turn, only to see a car speeding down the outside lane and then pushing in ahead of you? Then another one whips by, followed by more.

It may be frustrating, and appear a little rude, says a respected driving body this week. But perhaps that opportunistic driver sailing past you is in fact just making good use of an otherwise empty lane, points out the IAM which in an earlier age was known as the Institute of Advanced Motorists.

By being over-polite and joining the queue you are simply adding to the length of the congestion.

Talking about "zip merging", the IAM's chief examiner was quoted as saying that it is perfectly acceptable for vehicles from each lane to take it in turns to merge into the single lane.

Just remember that when you are sitting waiting in a queue and someone with more daring or foresight nips past and jumps in 20 cars ahead of you.

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