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DAN DISCOVERS TRIPLE HYP-HEN

Two months ago, we lamented the death of the dreaded but often hilarious hyp-hens - words that used to over-run column width with wrongly-placed hyphens in a way that led to mans-laughter and other typographical leg-ends. We gave two examples of double hyp-hens: rampage could become either ram-page or ramp-age, while history could divide into hi-story or his-tory. A third double hyp-hen is notable (not-able, no-table).

Dan Cooper, a software engineer at Boeing's Seattle plant, has discovered a triple hyp-hen.

"Computer administrators usually give names to each computer in a cluster to make referencing them easier," he told us by email. "My computer had been named coderanger.

"I was discussing that name with the administrator. He said it was code-ranger, indicating a wide-ranging ability to handle all kinds of software code. Being a software developer, I thought it was coder-anger, indicating my frustration with computer problems.

"A co-worker walked up and was curious about our discussion, so we asked him what he thought the name was. He thought for a moment, and announced "co-deranger", indicating the computer was conspiring to drive me crazy!"

A few days later, Dan sent us another email: "A colleague suggests that an electronic fish finder would be a cod e-ranger. Wow... that's stretching a bit, but does it make this a quadruple hyp-hen?"

We gave it a three-and-a-half hyp-hen rating. For finding it, Dan and his colleague deserve a Gold Hyp-Hen Rib-and.

Then, to cap it off, Dan sent us another email: "Amazingly, here's a fifth variant for the hyp-hen (also a bit of a stretch): my colleague reminds me that a traveling troubador who sings the praises of the C programming language would be a C-ode-ranger.

"One of my favorite hyp-hens was the original website address for the Lumberman's Exchange, www.lumbermansexchange.com; they have since changed it to something else."

Sometimes, we could do with more hyphens, as shown by this email we received from Natty Bumppo, the Kentucky attorney with the novel name (which he adopted after spotting it in James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales):

It was bound to happen -- and one of National Public Radio's "rip 'n' read" girls did it just this morning. Carol Van Dam, reading a report on a NASA problem, said it involved in-FRARED (rhymes with impaired) light...

I've always wanted to make the same mistake: LOOKS like in-FRARED. Too bad it happened on a national newscast.

The granddaddy of these words is, of course, cooperate ("cooperative," "cooperation," etc.: "to make barrels," I guess). It used to be spelled with an umlatt over the second o; but that was impossible for most typewriters, which substituted a hyphen between the o's.

These days both diacriticals seem to be falling by the wayside. Some day soon Carol Van Dam or one of her colleagues will say cooperate the way it looks, on the air.

Thanks for that, Natty. We too have trouble coping with coop. So does Dan Cooper.

POSTSCRIPT: My witty colleague and webmaster, Barry Downs, of Kimberley, South Africa, says: "I'd suggest that cooperate is what you do after you've been sick. If you get sick a second time, and also get better - is that the only time you can truly say you recooperate?"

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Copyright 2003

Eric Shackle

Story first posted October 2003

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