Saying farewell to Jay-Z’s illustrious hyphen

Language, like all vestiges of human civilization, is a breathing thing: Mutable, changeable, always evolving. As surely as one day ends, the next begins. And so we bid a bittersweet farewell to the man we once called “Jay-Z” — husband, father, 17-time Grammy winner — and greet the man henceforth known as “JAY Z.”

Of course, hyphens are forever slipping out of fashion. In 2011, the AP Stylebook finally retired the hyphen in the word “e-mail,” long after the preferred “email” had already entered popular usage. (Not everyone was happy.) More famously, the Oxford English Dictionary dismissed some 16,000 hyphens in 2007, finally admitting that “pot-belly” is really two words and “bumble-bee” is just one.

And as this 1999 article points out, even Herman Melville’s seminal novel “Moby-Dick: or, The Whale” has somehow managed to shake its hyphen over time.

Because the hyphen is slowly losing its celebrity, there is greater and greater confusion over when the hyphen really is required. One column at the New York Times, for instance, can’t seem to decide whether the noun should be “build-out,” “buildout,” or just plain “build out.” (It is definitely not that last one.)

The occasionally much-needed hyphen can do some linguistic heavy-lifting — particularly in cases like this example from xkcd, which illustrates the dangers of the “sweet ass-car.”

If xkcd is right — if the hyphen tends to follow the format of “[adjective]-ass [noun]” — we must ask ourselves what exactly the word “Jay-Z” was modifying. He’s a jay-z what? JAY Z must have been confronted with this very same existential/grammatical question, concluding that he was not a jay-z anything. He is no adjective; he is a person, an incredibly rich and famous person. JAY Z, I think, made the right choice here.

And as for the lowly hyphen, hobbyist phoneticians can expect to see the punctuation mark dropping even further out of favor, resulting in word mash-ups like “mashup” and “musicmaker” and “wordmanglings.”


Image: CNN