Jay-Z Joins To-Day and Ice-Cream in the Hyphen Graveyard

'About 16,000 words have succumbed to pressures of the Internet age and lost their hyphens in a new edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.'
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Jay Z, formerly Jay-Z, has dropped the hyphen from his name. Presumably he did this because he felt like it.

But maybe there's another reason. The Internet is killing hyphens, at least according to this 2007 Reuters article about an update of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (flagged today by former Atlantic editor Justin Miller). That edition of the reference guide took 16,000 formerly hyphenated phrases and either fused their two components together--a la "bumblebee," "chickpea," "crybaby," "leapfrog," and "logjam"--or split them apart: "fig leaf," "hobby horse," "ice cream," "pot belly."

Dehyphenization predates the Internet, of course. "Today" was written as two words until around the 16th century, when it became "to-day" until the early 20th century, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. But the phenomneon has apparently ramped up recently.

"People are not confident about using hyphens anymore, they're not really sure what they are for," Shorter OED editor Angus Stevenson told Reuters at the time.

But judging from his "fuck hashtags and retweets" and "Internet / I aint even into that" old-man-isms off Magna Carta Holy Grail, Hov might not like the idea of being seen as an online-trends chaser. Luckily, Stevenson served up an aesthetic rationale for ditching hyphens as well: "Printed writing is very much design-led these days in adverts and Web sites, and people feel that hyphens mess up the look of a nice bit of typography. ... The hyphen is seen as messy looking and old-fashioned."

"Messy"--very not Tom Ford, very not Jay Z. It all makes sense. I'm just surprised he didn't pull this move before. He's been into delinking words for a while now: "I'm not a businessman / I'm a business, man."

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Spencer Kornhaber is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers pop culture and music. He was previously an editor at Patch.com and a staff writer at OC Weekly. He has written for Spin, The AV Club, and RollingStone.com.

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