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