Dash Masquerades as Hyphen — Criminally

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As she walked into the squad room, Grammar Smith glanced over at Dis Connect’s desk and saw Henrietta Hyphen slumped in a chair.

Henrietta was a “frequent flyer” at the Dept. of English Language Offenses.

“What have you done this time?” Grammar asked as she ambled up to Dis’s desk.

“I haven’t done anything!” Henrietta snapped. “I’m here filing a complaint against my cousin, En Dash.”

Grammar raised an eyebrow. Dis nodded his confirmation.

“What’s the problem?” Grammar asked.

“En has always been jealous of me, and now she’s stolen my identity! She keeps popping up in phrases where I should be. She’s stealing my thunder!” Henrietta fumed.

“There’s evidence.”

Dis showed Grammar the file:

Exhibit A: the 25 – year – old lawyer

Exhibit B:   The antique — book collector pounded upon the first edition.

Exhibit C:  She could be a full – or part – time worker.

“There are many more instances we’re still tracking down,” Dis said.

“Why is En doing this?” Grammar asked.

“It’s infuriating,” Henrietta ranted. “En hates that she’s not actively part of a phrase or sentence. She doesn’t accept that she’s used to set aside and emphasize ideas. I think she’s afraid of not being essential. That’s why she’s always butting in where she doesn’t belong.”

“Just because she appears where she shouldn’t doesn’t make it criminal,” Grammar explained.

“She’s not just showing up where she shouldn’t. She’s pretending to be me. She’s stealing my livelihood.”

“That is criminal – very tough,” Grammar admitted. “Good luck.”

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An Age-Old Problem

Hunt and peck

“This is it, the Hunt & Peck,” Sgt. Dis Connect said.

He opened the door and let Grammar Smith walk in before him.

Grammar peered across the dim barroom. There wasn’t much going on. A few Oxford commas were in the corner, hunched over their drinks, commiserating over their lot. Slumped at the bar, nursing a cocktail, was Grammar’s prey.

“Henrietta Hyphen?” Grammar asked as she and Dis approached the bar.

“Who wants to know?”

“I’m Inspector Grammar Smith of the Department of English Language Offenses. This is Sgt. Dis Connect.” They flashed their badges.

“We’d like you to come down to the station to have a chat,” Grammar continued.

“Why?” Ms. Hyphen wasn’t exactly belligerent; she was just strongly uncooperative.

“We’ve had a complaint that you assaulted a news reporter.”

“Are you kidding me?! She actually filed a complaint? That idiot was making my life miserable. She couldn’t decide when she wanted me and when she didn’t. What an airhead!”

“What do you mean?” Grammar asked.

“She kept tryingt to throw me in places where I didn’t belong. She’d write someone was ‘24-years-old’ or, even worse, ‘18-years old.’ Then she’d write ‘the 4 year old boy’ which is totally wrong. Yeah, I got huffy and gave her a shove, but that’s not assault.”

“Hold on a second,” Grammar said. She consulted the AP Stylebook site on her tablet. (She’d been tricked before by “backyard,” which the AP says should always be one word.)

Under “ages,” she found that hyphens should only be used when an age is being used as an adjective before a noun or as a noun: the 25-year-old scotch, the 5-year-old, or the 105-year-old square dancer.

However, it should be The United States is 241 years old.

“Well, the reporter was wrong and doesn’t seem to understand how to properly punctuate compound adjectives. However, you still shouldn’t have put your hands on her,” Grammar said. “I’ll  put this down as unfounded, but stay out of trouble.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Henrietta turned back to her drink.