How did I miss this devastating news?! Way back in Sept. 2007, Reuters broke the bad news that the hyphen — alas! my beloved meaning-merging hyphen! — is dead, victim of the OED, sacrificed to make the world easier for Blackberry users (or is that Blackberry-users?). Here’s a quote from the story “Thousands of hyphens perish as English marches on”
16,000 words have succumbed to pressures of the Internet age and lost their hyphens in a new edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Bumble-bee is now bumblebee, ice-cream is ice cream and pot-belly is pot belly. And if you’ve got a problem, don’t be such a crybaby (formerly cry-baby). The hyphen has been squeezed as informal ways of communicating, honed in text messages and emails, spread on Web sites and seep into newspapers and books. “People are not confident about using hyphens anymore, they’re not really sure what they are for,” said Angus Stevenson, editor of the Shorter OED, the sixth edition of which was published this week.
Hmmm. I’m asking myself what Emily Dickinson would think of this terrible news. Of course there are some who quibble over whether the OED is damning only the hyphens, or also dashes (em and en) — but consider her ingenious use of the end-of-line-hyphen, elevating it from punctuation to the breathless poetic device:
TO make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,—
One clover, and a bee,
The revery alone will do
If bees are few.
Or consider this line from a poem (“The Survivor”) by Nicos Alexiou:
— Have a little patience.
–You will die.
–You will die.
Perhaps my reveries alone will do? — when hyphens are few.