Only a little blog entry this time, because I’m really just trying to find out how to use WordPress properly. Hopefully I should have managed to insert a picture above of me wearing my ‘Bah Humbug’ hat, because I’m just about to write something very unfestive – not in an anti-Christmas kind of way – but this post will have a bah-humbuggery feel to it, simply because I’m writing miserable-sod stuff at this festive time of year.

Roy asked me this morning how I would hyphenate ‘unselfsparing’. I pondered awhile and then (annoyingly) gave my answer in three points, as follows…

1.            I wouldn’t use a hyphen here at all. ‘Un-self-sparing’ looks silly. If you were to remove the prefix –un and then hyphenate ‘self-sparing’, you would do so like that, but to follow the same procedure for ‘unself-sparing’ gives you this curious ‘unself’ word, which is confusing. What’s an ‘unself’?

2.            Hyphens, like apostrophes, are unfortunately going out of fashion, because the rules governing their usage are too little understood. It’s a long time since I saw a hyphenated compound adjective (for example, ‘miserable-sod stuff’). Even the hyphen in my name is often disregarded and dropped. A lamentable state of affairs, because punctuation informs the reader exactly how to interpret all the other marks on the paper – it is *not* dispensable decoration[1].

3.            With the advent of hashtags, it’s possible that readers are getting used to mentally processing several words run together like this, so perhaps ‘unselfsparing’ won’t create a problem for readers as it might once have done. #justguessing

I know this is a pompous blog. I know I’m insufferable when it comes to the standard of written English. But I used to be an English teacher, and once you’ve had that red pen in your hand, it’s impossible to put it down.

[1] Incidentally, I’ve had to use the little stars there, because I can’t work out how to get italics to show in WordPress. I saw asterisks used like this for the first time on Facebook, which demonstrates that social media sites can be the means of actually creating new forms of punctuation. There *should* be different types of punctuation for different forms of communication…but I’m torn between accepting that language is, and always has been, a growing and changing entity, and lamenting the decline of standards in written communication: every day I see errors in punctuation which actually change the meaning of the original message. The adverbial phrase ‘every day’ from the previous sentence, for example, should only be written ‘everyday’ when it is being used in an adjectival function.

(Aha! So this is how you do italics!)

2 thoughts on “Bah-humbuggery

  1. Am I allowed to comment on my own blog? I’ll give it a go. Looking at this again, I don’t think the little stars are punctuation so much as formatting. Emoticons would have been a better example. I think though, that there is still a valid point in there somewhere. Sorry about that…


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