In praise of the humble hyphen

I’ve been ruminating for a while about the evolution of language and our use of grammar.

It’s undeniable that the advent of texts and hurried emails is changing the way we use the written (or typed) word; when Chevy put out a press release consisting entirely of emojis, I wondered if we had already passed the tipping point.

But an ad for mortgage company L&C offering fee free mortgage advice reignited my frustration that a more slapdash approach just risks generating confusion and misunderstanding.

Call me a grammar pedant, but their strapline doesn’t make sense: will they give me free mortgage advice? Or a fee? Why is the word fee even in there if it’s free??

A simple hyphen is all that’s needed to sort this mess… ah, fee-free mortgage advice. That makes sense.

I’m afraid that hyphenation is being seen as fussy, unnecessary or even old-fashioned when really there are many cases where a hyphen helps to make a phrase mean an entirely different thing: compare the lunchtime scene of a man eating chicken versus the raging fowl that would be a man-eating chicken, for example.

I know, grumble grumble, but punctuation and grammar are vital if we are to make ourselves understood on page or screen. Just look at the Eats, Shoots and Leaves joke…

And in case you’re confused about the humble hyphen’s role, in this case it’s used when two words precede a third, for example it’s recommended you don’t take down any load-bearing walls when renovating, this rock-hard cake is absolutely impossible to eat, or we’re looking for a dog-friendly hotel (thanks Grammarly).

What do you think? Is it time to get rid of those hyphens cluttering up our phrases? Should we just accept that language is fluid and move on?

A working mother

Returning to work after maternity leave feels more than a little daunting, so I thought I’d buoy myself with a reflection on how becoming a mum has made me a better worker. So here’s a positive spin on what spending eight months changing nappies has taught me…

To be more organised

Anyone who’s left the house with a small baby only to find they’ve forgotten spare nappies/ wipes/ change of clothes knows that being a parent means you have to up your organisational game. I was pretty on the ball before but now I. Am. A. Machine.

Bottles? Check. Snacks? Got it. Second outfit for when the first one is ruined by some kind of bodily fluid? You bet. And this has translated to my work life – with limited work hours there’s no time to waste faffing around so I need to be completely sorted and know exactly what I’m doing and when. Yes, that means two diaries and a list on every bit of scrap paper in the house but when your sleep-deprived mind isn’t quite what it once was, things get written down. A lot.

To be more focused

Having very little spare time means you have to be extremely efficient with what you do have. Since returning to work freelance, I have developed a laser-like focus that Uri Geller would be proud of. As well as being more organised in terms of not forgetting things, I am now genuinely better at knuckling down and getting the job done fast and well. I’m working at home and that’s exactly what I’m doing: working. No faffing about on social media, or putting some washing on, or feeding the cat; just sitting at the table getting words onto a page until my bum goes numb. I’ve always been really productive but now I have somehow sharpened my senses to shut out everything but the job at hand.

To cope with change

As a bit of a control freak, I have always thought people who say they love change are lying; how can you relish jumping into the unknown? But the sheer scale and momentum of change that has happened in my life since my daughter was born (or even in the nine months before) means there is no choice: you have to roll with it. But this has certainly been one of the most positive things to come out of it, the knowledge that things are going to be constantly and rapidly evolving but that’s okay. In my work life, that means perhaps I can react faster or switch between projects more easily, and to actually look forward to not knowing what’s coming next… perfect for a freelance writer!

To have more patience

Having a small person in your life who can’t speak yet demands that you do everything for them could be frustrating if you didn’t get bucketloads of patience along with all those nice soothing hormones. Ahhhhh… Seriously, it has helped me to improve my negotiation skills, with my daughter when I just need another five minutes in bed; with my husband when I’ve had a tough day but so has he so we both want to be in charge of the remote control; with my friends when I’m trying to wheedle a babysitting session. And maybe I’ve gained some perspective which I didn’t have before; I was always impatient for the next experience or the next challenge. Now, while I’m more driven than ever, I can see what matters a little more – to me and to those around me.

To realise my worth

For me personally, being a parent has helped me get a better sense of myself, to see how I can cope under pressure and come out the other side still smiling or how I can dredge a nursery rhyme I haven’t heard since 1986 from the back of my mind on a long car journey. This translates well to working for myself: if I can place value on myself as a person then I can see the value in what I’m offering with words, and have the confidence to stick with that.