I had an interesting conversation with some colleagues the other day about the use of hyphens. DT seems to have a particular interest in words that aren’t spelt phonetically (or that are spelt phonetically but could be pronounced in alternative, more interesting ways), so we talk about various peculiarities of the English language from time to time.

This particular conversation arose when DT noticed that I hyphenated the word “thank-you”. (I would like to clarify, however, that I only hyphenate it when used as an expression or a noun, but not when “thank” is used as a verb. For example, if I received a nice comment on a post, I might reply with a “thank-you”, or I might write “I would like to thank you for your comment”.)

Anyway, the upshot of this brief discussion was that I found out that I hyphenate more often than others. Well, there were only three of us in the conversation, but I felt sufficiently disheartened by the lack of concurrence with my use of hyphens to not ask anyone else… Instead I’m writing about it here, to share with even more people! My logic is great. (I wasn’t actually that disheartened. I think we were just busy, so the discussion was cut short prematurely.)

Apparently, my colleagues do not hyphenate “week-end” either, preferring to write it as “weekend”. I have noticed that my phone’s autocorrect does recognise “weekend” but (as corny as this is going to sound) I feel like I’m not being true to my grammatical principles if I don’t add the hyphen, so I’ll take the extra second to add it in (unless I’m in a massive rush, or I’m really tired and couldn’t care less).

Also, it seems that “ice-cream” doesn’t need a hyphen either. When I went through primary school, I’m pretty sure I was taught to hyphenate all of these words. Does this mean our primary school curriculum isn’t standardised in relation to the use of hyphens? What other inconsistencies hide in our education system, waiting to be uncovered in awkward workplace conversations?

This seemingly innocent conversation brought up a lot of other questions about hyphens… Why does “weekend” get to be one word when the hyphen is removed, but “ice” and “cream” remain separate entities? Why have I never considered using a hyphen for “work-place” and other similar compound words? I’m suspecting that it simply has a lot to do with how the word looks when it’s written, and perhaps the way in which it is read. “Weekend” looks fine, but “icecream” does not (or does it?). But this is all so arbitrary! It’s almost like there’s no set rule because there’d be too many exceptions.