Let's Puncture Archaic Punctuation!

Rob Kyff on

Q: I'm all for eliminating spaces and hyphens! No more "cell phones!" It should be "cellphones." No more "e-mail"! It should be "email." Please address this in your column. -- NaLo Walls via email (or "e-mail"?!)

A: Sometimes I, too, feel like shouting "No more cellphones or email!" -- but not for the reasons you cite.

As for the hyphens, I've got some good news. While the 2007 edition of the Associated Press Stylebook did list "cell phone" and "e-mail" as the correct versions of these terms, the most recent edition endorses "cellphone" and "email."

Over the decades, several common words have made similar transitions. As recently as the 1920s, many writers were rendering "today" and "tomorrow" as "to-day" and "to-morrow." In "The Great Gatsby" (1925), for instance, the character Daisy Buchanan says, "Let's go back, Tom. To-morrow!"

Fortunately, both "cellphone" and "email" have now too earned single-word status.

Q: I recall learning that when one refers to a word as a word, the word is italicized. Yet, in your column, you put quotation marks around a word used as a word, e.g., The word "bamboozle" is derived ... How far off base am I, or was I bamboozled long, long ago? -- Jerry Bello, Bristol, Connecticut.

A: You weren't bamboozled, and your question allows me to address an issue several readers have raised over the years.

Believe me, I would LOVE to use italics in my column to refer to words as words. That way, I wouldn't have to insert all those quotation marks, which perch like black crows on the telephone wires of my sentences, cawing away, distracting the reader and wasting space.


(As some of you may have noticed, to avoid this quotation mark clutter, I've recently been omitting quotation marks when it's clear that I'm referring to a word as a word.)

Now, if I were writing for a magazine or book, I'd be able to use italics instead. But because I write my column for newspapers, I'm required to conform to the aforementioned Associated Press Stylebook, which sets the standard for most U.S. papers: "When a news story must use a word as a word, place quotation marks around it."

This stricture doesn't pose much of a problem for newspaper writers who refer to words as words only occasionally. But the handful of us who focus on language are stuck with these quotation marks, the banes of our existence.

But it's not a lost "caws"! We need some Quotation Marks-ism! Writers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your banes!


Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. His new book, "Mark My Words," is available for $9.99 on Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

Copyright 2021 Creators Syndicate Inc.



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