Amazon v. English Punctuation

Apparently Amazon.com is not a fan of hyphens (note to those with an F-bomb sensitivity: the linked article contains a few). This is ludicrous for a lot of reasons:

  1. Hyphens are absolutely necessary in some situations (there’s the “one nightstand” vs. “one-night stand” that the referenced post brings up, and phrases like “twenty-year lease”, “hundred-dollar bill”, “the whole good-versus-evil trope” all use them).
  2. Hyphens1 are used in English for various reasons, and anyone who’s read most any book that doesn’t have more pictures than words — what my nephews charmingly refer to as “chapter books” — has encountered them, and puzzled out how they work. A practiced reader’s eye will simply skip over them. They’re a nearly invisible piece of punctuation, their function in any given situation transparent.
  3. If hundreds or thousands of people have read a book without any troubles, then it should take more than one complaint to suddenly make Amazon (or any algorithm with an iota of fairness coded into it) decide to even flag a book for trouble, let alone remove it from circulation.

I haven’t read the book in question; I hadn’t heard of this particular author before I read a post in the Fiction Writers’ group on Facebook regarding this particular post.

Checking out the preview of his novel, here are the first few hyphen/dash uses I came across:

  • “…a tall, grey-haired man…”
  • “…Mac-10…”
  • “…Mid-thirties…”
  • “…drug-fuelled sex act…”
  • “…Not the sort of mental image you want of your mother-in-law…”

They all look correct, in my studied opinion. I suppose you could replace mother-in-law with mother in law, but even that looks better to my eye with the dashes. (I’d spell it fueled, and I suspect the weapon in question is a MAC-10, but the nitpicks there don’t involve the dashes.)

As presented, this is a ludicrous situation, one that I surely hope Amazon will correct.

(It might be nice, though, to read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road with some punctuation. Actually, no; I can’t envision a punctuation system that would ever make The Road a nice read. Not even scratch-‘n’-sniff daisies and smiley faces on every page.)


  1. Fine, hyphens and various species of dash. Typographers know the differences, and can lecture you at length about them. For the sake of brevity I’m lumping them all — utterly incorrectly — under the “hyphen” banner. Mea culpa