Friday, May 23, 2014

Stay Calm: Don't Hyphen-ventilate

I think I’ve finally figured it out. Why Quad-Cities becomes Quad Cities and vice versa.

It’s been a mystery to me ever since, well, ever since I started writing my own mystery.

Along with learning how to write, what makes “good” writing, are the finer points of punctuation—the glue that holds a sentence together. Sadly, in my middle school days, I willfully ignored that nice Language Arts teacher. I’ve paid a heavy price for that indiscretion ever since.

So now, I’m playing a catch up game. I actually bought and read a grammar book. I supplement that with a lot of Google searches. I ask my kids. Stuff like that gets me by until I’m ready to buy the time of a professional editor to check things over.

I feel I’ve improved over time. However, my spell checker program still remains a life saver more often than not. But it has its limitations—it doesn’t do hyphens well. As in, it doesn’t tell me what to do. It gives me choices. Not at all helpful. Most days I can’t decide what I want for lunch.

I found an online dictionary comment that said hyphen usage was down. Don’t believe it. Once you start looking, hyphens are everywhere.

Which brings me to my conundrum. The collection of cities that straddle the Mississippi River northwest of Bishop Hill is a nice place. I’d like to send one of my characters there. Do I hyphenate the name or not?

The answer came by way of a newspaper article about the Quad City Symphony Orchestra celebrating its centennial. It seems the original name was the Tri-City Symphony. I envisioned the ensuing years saw Tri-City turn into Quad-City as the organization grew and prospered. The final stage of growth and transformation required the omission of the hyphen. Quad City can stand on its own as a mature entity. It doesn’t hurt that it can also assume equal, nonhyphenated, standing with the Illinois Arts Council.

In case you’re wondering if this situation applies only to artsy groups, consider the Quad City Mallards.

Therefore, I’m going to send my character off to visit some nice people living in the Quad Cities and let the editorial chips fall where they may.


  1. I, too, have tried to solve this mystery. Seems to me that "Quad City" is used when there's too much sibilance in the name that is being modified. For instance, Quad Cities Mallards sounds clunky, as does Quad Cities Symphony. Yet it sounds equally discordant to say, "I'm from the Quad City," so we use the plural form when we refer to the noun. As for hyphenation, the Quad-City Times editor has clearly studied the style manual on compound adjectives as modifiers; however, the hyphen seems somewhat jarring, stuck there in the middle of "Quad" and "City" like 5 o'clock traffic on the Twin Bridges. Hence, the Mallards and musicians have chosen to play on without hyphenation in their appellation. Moreover, "Quad City" is also a place name that encompasses all of the cities and towns in the area and, as such, is as resistant to hyphen-ventilation as the term "health care" when used as an adjective or a noun. Of course, all of your characters will see the willy-nilly combination of quad, cities, and hyphens around town, which will always remain a mystery.

  2. I really appreciate your comment and the points it presents--all too true. Now, what are your views about the handy little radio/computer a great many of us are carrying around. Do you write "cell phone" or "cellphone" into your stories?