_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Monday, April 06, 2009

Hyphens

Apropos of my post the other day about newspaper copyediting, I saw this headline on the Post website today before I left work, and it's still up on the home page:
"Anti-Loan Scam Plan Launched"

Everyone has their language bugaboos, and over time I've realized that mine is hyphens. And this headline rankles me, because I think it manages to err in both directions at once. It's an article about the Administration's new initiative to combat a rise in mortgage fraud that preys on people in trouble. But after reading the headline it takes a moment (for me, anyway) to figure out that's what the headline is saying. Taking it literally, it means a scam plan has been launched that is aimed at loans, because "anti-loan" is buckled together into in a adjective modifying "scam plan," when it should actually be "Anti-Loan-Scam Plan Launched," or "Anti Loan Scam Plan Launched." Harumph.

3 comments:

lj said...

In this case I think I actually blame the use of "anti" rather than the hyphen. It's a prefix, but the writer is trying to apply it to an entire phrase ("loan scam") rather than a single word. That gets done a lot, but I think it gets too confusing, and a different wording would be better ("Effort to battle loan scams" is about the same length, although not as punchy). I don't think there's a clear way to prefix an whole phrase: "anti-loan-scam" seems stilted because "loan-scam" would not ordinarily be hypenated, and in "anti loan scam" the prefix is trying to stand on its own as a word. Better to avoid the whole mess, in the opinion of this prematurely grumpy old man.

teague said...

Yeah, I think your diagnosis is correct...

Anonymous said...

Well, I think, "Anti loan-scam plan launched," would do just fine. I actually like hyphens quite a lot because they can clarify things quite well. Problem is, you gotta use 'em so they clarify stuff. Ya know?

-Alex

PS. And I agree that the previous "anti-loan" is unintelligible.