March 22, 2011

Alarming lack of hyphen power

A HEADLINE in a local boating magazine reads: “Calling All Wooden Boat Owners.” The story concerns sailboat racing in Port Townsend, Washington, which is apparently starting up again for “wooden boat owners.”

I fear there cannot be many of those around. But one never knows. Are you, perchance, a wooden boat owner? That is, are you wooden? Do you own a boat? Are you a chip off the old block, maybe, with a heart of oak? Do you creak when the wind blows? Do you splinter easily? If so, you may be able to enter your boat for the Balsa Bowl, the Cedar Cup, the Mahogany Mug, the Plywood Plaque, and who knows what all else?

Okay, enough already. Yes, I know, it gets tiresome. The real story, of course, concerns the power of the hyphen and the lack of knowledge of boating headline writers. The tiny hyphen has it within its power to change a wooden boat owner into a wooden-boat owner, a vastly different thing. You may think this is splitting hairs, a semantic silliness, but it’s not.

Take, for instance, the headline on a pack of milk in my fridge. It says Fat Free Milk. Fat milk and free milk. And yet, by golly, it has no fat and it’s not free. It’s saying exactly the opposite of what it means to say because it has ignored the humble hyphen in Fat-Free Milk.

Of course, I don’t mean to denigrate any of you who actually happen to be wooden boat owners. Good luck to you, I say, and no doubt the Coasties will excuse you from wearing life jackets — all except those of you made of lignum vitae, which, I believe, sinks rather than floats. But there, you can’t have everything. Not even a hyphen, it seems.

Today’s Thought
When I read some of the rules for speaking and writing the English language correctly, ... I think—
Any fool can make a rule
And every fool will mind it.
— H. D. Thoreau.

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #175
No matter what your instincts are, do not cut down the size or height of your rig to go ocean voyaging. That’s the rule of thumb from experienced cruisers Lin and Larry Pardey. “Cruising boats need power to keep them moving,” they say, “since they are almost always heavily laden.”

Tailpiece
An old lady approached the boy who was sitting on the curb with a cigarette in one hand and a hip-flask in the other.
“Sonny,” she said, “why aren’t you in school?”
“Jeez, have a heart, lady,” he said. “I’m only three.”

6 comments:

Ben said...

I guess as a steel boat owner I had better wear a good lifejacket, and paint myself with lots of epoxy to keep that nasty rust away (I wondered what that creaking noise was, guess it must be my rusty joints). and I am glad my boat isn't ugly...

I Always wondered what hyphens were used for... Or what they even are - Infact anything to do with grammar kind of passed me bye at school (too busy doodling boats and daydreaming about the south seas).

I rely pretty heavily on spellchecker to at least make my posts kind of readable (I hope). I hope you don't freak out if you read any of my stuff! (like my teachers used to).

Now I need to go back and hyphenate some of my post headlines "wooden boat show" to "wooden-boat show"... See, at least I am a quick learner?

Cheers Ben

EP said...

Should we use a hyphen if we call you a blue water blogger? I would hope so

John Vigor said...

Well, EP, if I fell in and got freezing cold you could call me a blue water-blogger.

Brrr!

John V.

Micky-T said...

I'll side with Ben on this one, I rely on spell check too, knowing they don't correct all the grammer.

But I am a boat-lover guy.

Is that how you do it John?

John Vigor said...

Yeah, that'll-do-it.

John V.

Dan Owen said...

A good deal of the wooden boat hulls in Port Townsend are entirely covered with fiberglass cloth and impregnated with resin both inside and out. Best of both worlds or a poor comprimise?
Dan O........