When Technical Jargon Requires Hyphens

When Technical Jargon Requires Hyphens

Post by Linc Madis » Wed, 22 Jan 1997 04:00:00

> "When a temporary compound is used as an adjective before a
> noun, it is often hyphenated [Note: often, not always] to avoid
> misleading the reader. ... not 'a free form sculpture' but 'a
> free-form sculpture'. Even though 'form sculpture' has no rational
> meaning ..., it could cause a moment's hesitation for the reader:

One of my favorite examples of this was a phrase that turned up often
at a job I once had where my supervisor believed that all hyphens and
commas are evil.  (I'm not joking, and only very slightly exaggerating.)  
There were lots of safety documents that referred to "confined space
personnel," so I kept looking around to find the imprisoned

As for telecom relevance, I wrote previously of having cause to call
Midway Island, which at the time (1994) still required calling an AT&T
operator to manually route the call, using a non-dialable 808 number.
This was the same job.  Our jailbird astronauts, uh, I mean our
confined-space personnel, were doing some hazmat cleanup on some base
on or near Midway.

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1. When Technical Jargon Requires Hyphens

Please consider sharing this with all your readers, so they can pass
it along within the industry.  We all know that proper written
communications is vital in any technical career, but hyphenation is
very tricky and often misused in advertisements, proposals, etc.

Thank you.


Several professionals have asked me over the years how to properly
write technical phrases, because the use of hyphens confused them.
Until I started writing articles, I did not understand the rules
either.  Here's the scoop.

When words are intended to be read together as a single adjective,
those words should be hyphenated.  For example: There is an on-line
system.  It is a PC-based T1.  I have a three-year-old son.

When those same words are to be read as a noun, they are not
hyphenated.  For example: We are on line.  It is a PC based in the
control room.  I have a three year old.

This rule is followed by most professional publications.  I find it
interesting that it is in several English books, but it is seldom
explained or emphasized in English classes.

Prof. Connie Curts
Telecommunications Faculty
DeVry Institute of Technology
11224 Holmes Rd
Kansas City, MO  64131

phone: (816) 941-0430 ext. 467
fax:   (816) 941-0896

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Thanks for the tips. If/when I get
to the point once again (ever again?) that I have time to actually
edit this little newsletter in detail I'll try to remember your
guidelines. In the meantime, perhaps writers to the Digest will
take note of your comments and incorporate those rules in their
own submissions.   PAT]

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