The Hyphen

The hyphen is serious business in the world of punctuation. It doesn’t even…you don’t even know.

The hyphen is one of the earliest forms of punctuation, due to the fact that it is half of an equals sign, which is also one of the earliest forms of punctuation, due to the fact that assignment operators weren’t going to just create themselves.

Hyphens were officially recognized as punctuation in the early 12th century, when John II Komnenos was writing up a sweet script to automatically correct any spelling errors in the word “Pecheneg” when, as the story goes, he was attacked by a vicious beast (likely a panther) and only placed half of the equality symbol on the piece of paper. Liking the way it looked, he kept it, and no one could do much about it, except deridingly mention that the other line must have escaped while it had the chance, but those people hated the future anyway.

The hyphen has branched out so many ways in an effort to create more delicious varieties for itself. What first started out as a pinch of minor stretches and shifts has now become a glut of twists and measurements, overly redundant nomenclature for the sake of a thickness no one can agree upon, beating you down, masked with simplicity but wielding a cane-sword inside fifteen other cane-swords, but then striking at your mind with a regular cane, just to confuse you even more. It also has trust issues.

If the hyphen is Vanilla (word-joining Vanilla), then here are some other flavors filled with goodness (sometimes).

  • The en dash (–), which is about the width of an “n”, is what should REALLY be used for ranges and some other things like compound adjectives for which neither part of the adjective modifies the other; that is, when each is modifying the noun…yeah, you know. It’s the French Vanilla of the bunch.
  • The em dash (—) is about the width of the letter m, and is used for parenthetical examples—parenthetical example witticism here—and for any kind of interruption in speech. It’s the Cookies & Cream, and is almost as yummy.
  • The horizontal bar is (―) is like Cookies & Cream with sprinkles. It’s also used as an anti-caking agent.
  • The swung dash (⁓) indicates the extension of a vowel in Japanese, and wears a baseball cap everywhere it goes. Black Cherry.
  • The tilde (~) is Low-Fat Black Cherry, and that’s all it can say right now.
  • The underscore (_) is either a diacritic mark or a character replacing a standard space, but no one knows for sure. It is Chocolate.
  • The macron (¯) is WAAAY up there! Look at it! Isn’t that just gorgeous? Research has shown similarities to Rocky Road.
  • The hyphen bullet (⁃) is a short horizontal line. What? Oh, I guess it’s Butter Pecan.
  • The minus sign (−) is used in math once in a while. It has quite a life of its own. Mint Chocolate Chip. In a waffle cone.
  • The wave dash (〜) is too silly.
  • The Hebrew maqaf (־) has been focusing on some previously neglected life goals. It recently announced that it plans to maintain its Strawberry status, and there was much rejoicing.
  • The Mongolian todo hyphen (᠆) is from the Mongolian alphabet, which has a few characters that might look a little like horsies. Superman.
  • The Hangul Jungseong Eu (ᅳ) sometimes sneaks into em dash’s stuff but then puts it back and no one knows. Orange Sherbet seems likely.
  • The Japanese chōonpu (ー) is also known as “that flying carpet one.” It’s Rainbow Sherbet.
  • The Chinese character for “one” (一) is pretty close to a sideways “1”. Many compare this to Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, unjustly, but that’s another story.

This article is part of a series on punctuation. It’s pretty much all made up. Don’t underestimate the prowess of a panther, though. You’ve been warned.