Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Life, death, and Hyphen policies

February 14, 2012  

by Roger White

Pardon me while I slowly lose my mind.

You’ve heard of the axiom regarding higher learning: It’s the pursuit of learning more and more about less and less until you know absolutely everything about nothing. It’s an ivory tower conundrum. Academic types, in the never-ending quest to gain all the knowledge they can on a particular subject—say, the reproduction rituals of the sub-Saharan aardvark—eventually become self-professed experts in this one tiny field of endeavor, often to a maddening nth degree and to the exclusion of everything else, including, sadly, common sense.

You’ve witnessed this.

You at cocktail party: “So you’re a professor?”

Academic type: “I’m a Ph.D., yes. Also Ed.D., M.e.D., M.B. B., B.B.S., and M.Ou.S.E. By the way, did you know that the anal glands of the bushland aardvark actually lure members of the opposite sex? I have photos.”

You: “Oh, look at the time.”

Graphically, this phenomenon can be represented as a triangle with a nice, fat base at the bottom and a teensy-weensy point at the top that goes infinitely on up into nothingness. Poof! Gone. Bye bye!

This gives me a mental image of a vanishing point, which stirs my addled mind to remember the movie Vanishing Point, in which a guy named Kowalski is hired to deliver a 1970 Dodge Challenger to another guy in San Francisco, who bets Kowalski that he can’t get the car from Colorado to California in less than 15 hours. It’s a nice cult movie from the ’70s, and you should rent it, but I don’t know why I’m mentioning it now.

Um. Where were we? Ah, yes. Here’s what I’m getting at. My own, little personal ivory tower hell, which is currently gnawing my intestines into mush, is all about words. You see, I work as an editor in a quasi-large association here in association land (don’t get me started), and I work with other editor types in this whisper-quiet stable crammed with dozens of little, square cubicles. I feel like one of those cows they raise for veal. Just sitting here. All day. Clacking away. Waiting for the eventual slaughter. Moo. Clack. Sip. Burp. Moo. Clack. Lunch! Moo. Clack. Sip. Burp.

Anyway, after oh, about 25 years of doing this, my daily goal has become simply this: do my job, write my stories, drink my 18 cups of coffee, moo, try to make as little fuss as possible, and oh, so thankfully go home. But it doesn’t work that way. Moo.

We have to have meetings. About things such as the hyphen. And we have to have meetings about having meetings about the hyphen. When should we use the hyphen? Will there be trouble if the hyphen is misused in this instance? Should we establish a hyphen resource center? What size hyphen should we use?

You get my drift. I suppose I should be more passionate about my craft. Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself a pretty decent writer/editor, and I think I do my job well, but some of the things that stir up the dust around here are making my left eyelid twitch. It could be the java, but I don’t think so. I mean, who besides the editor types sitting around me really cares if “decision making” is hyphenated or not? Moo!

It’s not that I don’t care, but as a now-deceased colleague once opined, “I’ve seen life and death, and this ain’t it.” This guy was once the executive director of my quasi-large association, and a wise man he was. His many life experiences included a military stint in Vietnam, so I embrace his take on the big picture—which is basically this: The fervent dispute that’s twisting your guts into salt-water taffy usually doesn’t really mean that much in the larger scope of things, so relax. I know from whence I speak, as well. I was an air traffic controller long ago, before my venture into the world of words, and it’s true—hundreds of people won’t die if we can’t come to agreement on this hyphen.

I’m sure people in other professions have the same problem. Passionate arguments, dust-ups, and angry looks arise from what in reality is the tiniest minutiae. You want to scream “Get a life! Please. Moo!”

But you don’t. You nod, you agree to the latest treatise on the hyphen, which becomes Association Communications Policy Number A-165, and you quietly pray for a stray meteor. Ah, well. At least I have my health. Ooh, what is that rash on my leg…


   Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat daschund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.


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