Sunday, February 24, 2008

Bad Hyphens

Over the years, one example of media weirdness (and bad technology) I've noticed is what we typographers call "bad hyphens." Typesetting systems and layout programs make decisions on where to hyphenate words at the end of a line, based on a set of rules about how many letters to leave before or after the hyphen.

What they don't deal with quite so well are compound words and technological neologisms.

I've been on the lookout for bad hyphens in my daily newspapers. I decided not to go out of my way to find them -- but when I see one in a story, I set it aside. It's actually amazing there aren't more of them.

I finally have three, which seems like enough to warrant a post, so here goes:

Star Tribune, January 21, 2008, in an AP story about Hugo Chavez threatening to nationalize farms "if owners refuse to sell their milk for domestic consumption and instead seek higher profits abroad or from chee-semakers."
I had to read that one twice before I figured out what the story meant to say, wondering what a "semaker" was. Let alone a "chee."
Star Tribune, February 10, 2008, in a local letter to the editor about substitute teachers in the Minneapolis public schools: "The Aesopon-line website, which the Minneapolis schools use..."
I guess they're referring to a website called Aesop [pause] online... which calls to mind the constant struggle faced by anyone who has to typeset web addresses. The darn things are long and full of words run together.

My general rule is to break them manually at a spot between two "words," in a place that that will read naturally. And to never use a hyphen, since readers who may type the URL into their browsers will have no way of knowing if the hyphen is actually part of the address or not.
Star Tribune, February 24, 2008, in today's offering by conservative columnist Katherine Kersten, quoting an anti-pornography activist: " 'And now they've figured out how to get onto your cell phone, and your iP-od,' he adds."
Oh, so that's how you say it -- ip - od! Thanks, Katherine.

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