Abbeville vs. Chicago 2: Hyphenation Domination


To-day we here at Abbeville are squaring off against the reigning heavyweight champion of style guides, The Chicago Manual of Style, over one of the most devilishly contentious punctuation marks ever invented: the hyphen. It’s going to be a tough fight, but we’re prepared to face that big orange style Goliath armed with nothing but naked hubris and the slingshot of our editorial whim. In fact, we’ve thrown down the gauntlet in the very first word of this post by employing a deliberately archaic hyphen purely for style’s sake, and you know what? We might do the same thing to-morrow.

All right, enough trash talk. Let the battle begin.


1.1. Multiple hyphens. Chicago claims that “although two or more hyphens are standard in such phrases as a matter-of-fact approach or an over-the-counter drug, there is no consensus—nor need there be—on the need for more than one hyphen in longer and less common adjectival compounds.” Wait, sorry: “nor need there be“? Oh, there need be, Chicago. What’s the fun of having grammatical authority if you can’t wield it like a truncheon? The Abbeville in-house style guide is crisp and clear on this point: “Use hyphens with compound adjectives before a noun.” Boom. Done. Makes Will Strunk look like a rambling old man. But wait, there’s one exception. Chicago says that “early nineteenth-century literature and early-nineteenth-century literature are both in good standing.” Not with us! We choose the first formulation, because the second just rubs us the wrong way. First round winner: Abbeville.

1.2. Adverbs ending in “ly.” Chicago lays down the law on this one. “Compounds formed by an adverb ending in ly plus an adjective or participle (such as largely irrelevant or smartly dressed) are not hyphenated either before or after a noun, since ambiguity is virtually impossible.” We tried hard to come up with some clever example of ambiguity to prove them wrong, but a formulation like “the bravely-borne illness of the tightly-wound tailor” looks a little la-di-da and suspicious even to us. Winner: Chicago.

1.3. The trend toward closed compounds. Chicago: “With frequent use, open or hyphenated compounds tend to become closed.” Yeah, but LESS CHARMING in the process. We reserve the right to subject our readers to all the deliberately antiquated verbal frippery they can handle. If we want to go on-line today and e-mail you about a level-headed book-worm we know, we don’t expect anyone to stop us. Likewise, we reserve the right to play Joyce and Faulkner and throw a few hyphennegating highmodernist compounds your way (cf. “artblogosphere“). Not that we’ll usually do any of these things; we just like having the option. Winner: clearly us.

FINAL: Abbeville 2, Chicago 1

Chicago put up a good fight, but in the end, our never-flinching, ambiguity-loathing, style-loving approach to hyphenation has won the day. In celebration, we-are-going-to-use-this-sentence-to-take-the-hyphenation-equivalent-of-a-victory-lap. Next time on Abbeville vs. Chicago, we’ll duke it out over their chapter “The Manuscript Editor’s Responsibilities,” which we hope include mixing a good stiff drink at the end of the manuscript editor’s day. Good-night!

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