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Why Authors Should Know About the Disappearing Hyphen and Other Problems Caused by the Web by Carolyn Howard-Johnson

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of the multi award-winning The Frugal Editor

I recently read  one of my favorite grammar and editing columns in the Glendale News-Press, my local newspaper. In  “A Word Please,” June Casagrande noted the sad (or not so sad) loss of the hyphen due to the influence of the Web. Technology has thrust all manner of bad grammar habits onto those who love correct English. Many of these habits are enumerated in my multi award-winning The Frugal Editor, and I can tell you there are enough of them to give the average author who pulled down As in English some really big headaches!

June mentioned that the Brits don't agree with Americans on some points of hyphen-using, that style guides can't agree, and that dictionaries don't either. Some are worried that the hyphen may go extinct! Well, I for one will cheer. But there are a whole bunch of other grammatical things to worry about and they aren’t so easily gotten rid of.

The Net is promulgating worse than just this distressing disappearing-hyphen syndrome. It has encouraged us to push all kinds of words together. That comes from what I call the "domain name influence." Or domainnameinfluence, if you will. Book or bookcover? Bookfair or book fair. Backmatter or back matter? Hard copy or hardcopy?  You get the idea.

Even with the zero-tolerance approach to grammar I use to keep authors out of hot water with agents and publishers (and therefore make it more likely they'll get published), I am making combined-word style choices everywhere else but in query letters.

Simply put, I love to stick words together. Word-bonding is a time-honored tradition in English. As an example, the word, therefore. So word-gluing goes back to the Germanic roots we came from! (The Germans use Fingerhut for finger hat--or, in translation, thimble).

Poets have pushed words together for ages, too. So, do I care? Not a whit. In my deepest recesses, I think grammar snobs are wrong often enough that they should be either ignored or distrusted. It's just that I don't want any of my readers to get caught in a net spread by those meanies--and they are everywhere waiting to put a kink in your career.

Back to the zero-tolerance thing. If you want to impress a literary agent or prospective boss, please don't put hyphens in words they are convinced are correct only one way. They believe it's nonfiction, not non-fiction. Though I don't get a red squiggle with either version of the word on my Amazon wordspeller, but it isn't as judgmental  as your run-of-the-mill agent or future employer will be.

I could go on and on about the way the Web has misled us. There are ampersands that no one seems to know the rules for. And the overuse of question marks and exclamations points and caps and italics—all affectations that agents and publishers hate. There is improperly punctuated dialogue (that the English disagree with us on, too!), and lots more your English teacher never told you.

The list is endless. Lucky that writers have June Casagrande's grammar books and my Frugal Editor to help them through the grammar and syntax swamps, isn’t it.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers and the many classes she taught for nearly a decade as instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program. All her books for writers are multi award winners including the first edition of The Frugal Book Promoter, and the second. Her The Frugal Editornow in its second edition, won awards from USA Book News, Readers’ Views Literary Award, the marketing award from Next Generation Indie Books and others including the coveted Irwin award.

Howard-Johnson is the recipient of the California Legislature’s Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award, and her community’s Character and Ethics award for her work promoting tolerance with her writing. She was also named to Pasadena Weekly’s list of “Fourteen San Gabriel Valley women who make life happen” and was given her community’s Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts. 

The author loves to travel. She has visited eighty-nine countries and has studied writing at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom; Herzen University in St. Petersburg, Russia; and Charles University, Prague. She admits to carrying a pen and journal wherever she goes. Her Web site

June's column may be read in the Glendale News-Press's Web site and she is the author of

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Instructor for nearly a decade at the renowned UCLA Extension Writers' Program Author of the multi award-winning series of HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers 
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The Frugal Book Promoter
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You pin one of my book covers, and I'll pin one of yours!


  1. Thank you for sharing this with your subscribers and visitors, Linda! The Web is changing everything--even grammar. It's getting so it's hard for authors to keep up!


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