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Understanding the Ever-Mysterious Hyphen

Ah, the hyphen. As one of the world’s most ambiguous bits of punctuation, the hyphen has become the source of confusion, despair, and bone-rattling terror for writers around the world. But the mystery of the hyphen is far from impenetrable – and by understanding why we use this little dash, you’ll get a much better sense of how to use it.

The Basics of the Hyphen

Let’s start with the core function of hyphens: The hyphen clarifies modifiers.

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7 Reasons I’d Wage War for the Oxford Comma

The Oxford Comma: Give Me Clarity or Give Me Death

I ask every writer and editor I work with one crucial question: “What’s your opinion on the Oxford comma?” At times this has even been my conversation opener, because, much like religious nuts who won’t befriend those not of their faith, I just can’t bear people who don’t believe in the serial comma. I feel like spending time with anti-Oxford-comma-ists may cause me to break out into a terrible rash.

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Happy Birthday -COMMA- Henry

direct address comma cake
Update: I’m still tracking down the original image, but this error seems to be an epidemic in the cake-making industry. Another recent birthday celebration I attended had a similar issue. The birthday girl allowed me to punctuate her cake — in red frosting, even!

On Saturday, I spent time with my family watching the new Narnia film and going to a Pirate-themed restaurant where my father kept trying to talk in Pirate lingo.  We also had a special guest: Henry, a family friend, who happened to be celebrating his birthday.

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How to Spell “A Lot”

Perhaps normal people have understandable phobias and pet peeves.  As an excessively dedicated writer, however, we have only warped versions of either.  To us, this is warped in its best possible sense.  For example, we cringe—no, we get a little physically ill—every time someone uses the word “alot” with me.

Of course, the major reason we have such a reaction to this word is that the only way this makes sense is if you’re referring to the mythical creature known as an alot (created by our friend at Hyperbole and a Half to help them cope with the same pain).  Therefore, “I care about this alot” turns into:

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Me vs Stephen Fry on Language

A friend of mine posted this video and tagged me, what with me being a punctuation/spelling/grammar/language Nazi.  Even after this well-phrased video, however, I stand my ground.  Here’s my response to the video.

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