The new edition Shorter Oxford English Dictionary just came out and apparently, thousands of hyphens have leapt to their deaths like tiny lemmings.
This doesn’t surprise MRP, actually. In fact, we just had a discussion at my workplace about whether to update our stylebook from e-mail to email. For a variety of reasons, we opted to keep it e-mail.
The article cites two pretty interesting reasons for why hyphens have fallen out of favor: the simple evolution of language and that hyphens just don’t look as good on the printed page. The OED folks say that they did exhaustive research before concluding that, in some cases, they should ditch the poor hyphens.
This is a perfect example of what I find so interesting about language: rather than being a set of rigidly based rules to which we word nerds should cling unquestioningly and at all costs, it really is organic and adaptive.
My workplace stylebook made allowances for hyphens when not having one would lead to undue ambiguity. For example, recreation versus re-creation. The article gives a really good example, “Twenty-odd people came to the party, he said. Or was it twenty odd people?”
During one update of the stylebook, I remember we had a long conversation about the word coworker because my colleague thought that without a hyphen, people might think the word was actually cow orker.
She was overruled.