Recently I went to dinner with a friend. As we perused the menu, I noticed the following section:
SIX DOLLAR SIDES
sweet potato fries
vidalia onion rings
spicy broccoli rabe & parmesan
brussels sprouts with orange and sage
jalapeno cheddar grits
I pointed to the list and asked my friend, "If we ordered all of these, how much would it cost?"
He studied the options for a moment and then said, "thirty-six dollars."
I shook my head. "Actually, it would be six dollars."
"Huh?" was his response.
I explained that without a hyphen in "six-dollar sides," the menu lists six sides that cost one dollar each. The hyphen removes the ambiguity.
"Ah," he said. "You're right. I'm just so used to seeing things like that without a hyphen that I don't even notice anymore."
His comment made me a little sad, because I knew he was speaking the truth. So many people today just don't seem to care about using hyphens properly. But they matter. In a previous post I gave an example I see every single day: the omission of a hyphen in the term "small-business owner." Without the hyphen, you are talking about an owner of businesses who happen to be a small person.
I know a hyphen is just a little line on your computer screen. But it makes a big difference, so it should matter! Especially to small-business owners who are tall. Or restaurant owners who don't want to sell six plates of food for a grand total of six dollars.
Maria Murnane is the best-selling author of the romantic comedies Perfect on Paper, It's a Waverly Life, and Honey on Your Mind. She also provides consulting services on book publishing and marketing. Learn more at www.mariamurnane.com.
This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2012 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.