By T. F. Sayles
First of all, lest you think I have some kind of hyphenation obsession, let me assure you it is purely coincidental that we find ourselves discussing hyphens here for the second month in a row. Last month, as you may recall, in my near-tearful farewell to Wendy Clarke (her column, that is), I pointed out that “good-bye” is properly spelled, at least in this magazine, with a hyphen. In some dictionaries you may find “goodbye” or “good bye” or even “good-by,” but the latest edition of our official oracle, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, says it’s “good-bye,” so that’s that. End of discussion. Because I said so.
This month’s hyphenation question is far more interesting—largely because it can’t be so easily settled. And that’s because neither Merriam-Webster’s nor any other dictionary offers any guidance in the vexing case of Chris Craft v. Chris-Craft—which comes to bear this month in “Oldies but Woodies” [page 50], senior editor Jody Schroath’s delightful confessional about five less than fruitful years as the owner of a wooden Chris. With the exception of iconic words like Coke and Kleenex, dictionaries are of no use when it comes to ordinary brand and corporate names. For those you have to look elsewhere, like cereal boxes and letterhead and brochures and office buildings and boat hulls. And websites.
Hark back with me now to 1996, the dawn of the Google Age. Or at least early morning of the Google Age. I mention this because it was a pivotal time for us wordsmiths. As more and more information found its way onto the worldwide web, the easier our nitpicky jobs got. The less necessary it became to visit the local library, the less often we had to trot down to the grocery store to check the spelling of “Ziploc,” the fewer phone calls we had to make to see if “Bowleys Marina” gets an apostrophe or not (it doesn’t) and ditto for Tim’s Rivershore Restaurant & Crabhouse (it does), and, while we’re at it, do they in fact use an ampersand and spell “crabhouse” as one word?
They do, and Chris-Craft uses a hyphen. At least they do now. Back in the early Google days, though, things weren’t quite so cut and dried. Indeed, back then the company was quite ambivalent, hyphenwise. With the actual logo, they were consistent in hyphenating with a little chrome star; but in ordinary text, where chrome stars are not an option, they were maddeningly inconsistent. Sometimes Chris-Craft, sometimes Chris Craft, sometimes both in the same paragraph. And since the rest of the world seemed to favor the un-hyphenated form, that’s what ended up in our house style guide.
Now hark forward (I think that’s possible) to the present day, and imagine our surprise when we discover, in the process of preparing Jody’s story for prime time, that Chris-Craft is now very consistent in its use of the hyphen. So we have updated our style guide. Henceforth, and until further notice, we too will use the hyphen. And you, dear reader, may rest easy, secure in the knowledge that we are ever vigilant about such things. . . . Or maybe you don’t care, and that’s okay too. When it comes to hyphens, we care so you don’t have to.