Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of three-word phrases unnecessarily hyphenated. Here’s an example:
Once it’s all said and done, you’ll have peace-of-mind knowing the contents on your computer are protected.
Sorry, but those hyphens aren’t necessary. Here are a few more: inch-by-inch, time-of-day, up-to-date, over-and-over. These would all make fine compound adjectives, but don’t hyphenate them unless they are adjectives! For those hyphens to be correct, the writer of that sentence would need something like:
Once it’s all said and done, you’ll have a peace-of-mind situation knowing the contents on your computer are protected.
Those other examples might be inch-by-inch examination, time-of-day readout, up-to-date message, over-and-over excuses. An exercise: when you see one of these, supply your own noun the adjective phrase to modify. But when they’re by themselves, don’t hyphenate them.
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I’ve been posting things that people get wrong a lot lately, and here’s another one, that someone (the folks at This Day in History) almost got right! They seem to know the way most people get this wrong, and they avoid that: NEVER use “is comprised of”! That’s a pretentiousism. (You may say “is composed of” when appropriate. See the last rule below.)
The winning teams from those regions comprise the Final Four, who meet in that year’s host city to decide the championship.
But they still got it backwards. Here are the rules:
Use comprise when you start with the whole thing and then mention its parts. It means “is made up of.”
Use compose when you start with the parts (winning teams) and then say what they make (The Final Four). You may use “is composed of” if you have a need to put the whole thing first and the parts second and you don’t want to use comprise. So, “The ‘Final Four’ is composed of the winning teams from each region” is correct.
Here’s a pair of words that a lot of people get wrong. First, the comic (he gets it wrong).
Both anxious and eager refer to anticipating something in the future, but they are different in an important way:
Eager means looking forward to something with pleasure
Anxious means looking forward to something with fear.
I’m eager for you all to get this right, but I’m a little anxious that not everyone will.
The rule is that when you compare two things, you use the comparative form (see the Andertoons comic below), and when you select from three or more, it’s called the superlative form.
The kid in the comic has a point. When the word you want has three or more syllables, use more and most with the word.
I illustrate with two jokes, but here’s the lesson: Be sure your readers know where you’re coming from. I remember a quip used in religious circles: A text out of context is a pretext. But that’s not one of the two jokes.
Joe: A WAVE is a person in the Women’s auxiliary of the navy, right?
Moe: Um, yes, the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, back in WWII, yes.
Joe: And a WAC is in the Women’s Army Corps, right?
Joe: Then what’s a WOC???
Moe: Hmm. I give up.
Joe: A WOC is what you thwow at a wabbit!
You remember that one from Bugs Bunny, right? Here’s the other one. (It works better if you say it rather than read it. Try it on some all-knowing teenager.):
Joe: How do you pronounce M, A, C, D, O, N, A, L, D?
Moe: MacDonald, the guy who had a farm.
Joe: How about M, C, H, E, N, R, Y?
Moe: Well, McHenry, like the historic fort in Baltimore.
Joe: Then how do you pronounce M, A, C,-, H, I, N, E?
Moe: Hmm. Mack Hiney? Mac Hein?
Joe: Nope! Machine!
I’d tell a third joke, but I might be endangering Joe’s life. Anyway, you can see how setting up a misleading context directed the victim’s thinking down the wrong trail. Here’s a longer version of the advice at the top of this post:
When you proofread your material, think of ways it might be misunderstood, and prevent it.
Of course sometimes it is the reader’s fault: