Jay Z drops it, Martha Lane Fox added it: A salute to the humble hyphen


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The Independent Culture

The poor hyphen. With the news last week that rapper Jay-Z was dropping the hyphen from his name to become simply Jay Z, it becomes the latest diacritical mark to come under sustained pressure from modern usage. We’ve not been this upset since Waterstones boss James Daunt ditched the book chain’s apostrophe.

Jay Z’s lack of hyphen follows a trend led by – what else? – the digital revolution of dropping extraneous grammar in order to make words as efficient as possible. A 2007 version of the shorter Oxford English Dictionary squeezed 16,000 hyphenated words such as ice-cream and bumble-bee to icecream and bumblebee. Conversely, other compound nouns such as “test-tube” preceded Jay Z’s lead and became “test tube”. Before the non-adjectival hyphen becomes a historical relic (“To-day” anyone?), Trending wanted to pay tribute to some of the finest hyphens of all time. Sorry, the all-time greatest hyphens (double-barrel names don’t count).


Christened Thomas Terry Hoar Stevens, Terry-Thomas switched his forenames around  working in vaudeville and music between the wars. He later conjoined them with a hyphen that he likened to “the gap in his teeth”. For the sake of distinctiveness, it’s also a good result for the second Google result for “Terry-Thomas”: Terry Thomas Estate Agents, Carmarthen.

Attorney-General (in Hansard)

On the official website of Attorney General Dominic Grieve, his job title is two words. Likewise, on his office door there is no hyphen. Yet in Hansard, the parliamentary records, a hyphen is not only used for Attorney-General but is compulsory. Though not in Canada – where its Hansard style guide strictly forbids it. All hail the sturdy British Hansard hyphen! See also: Hansards’ solicitor-general; advocate-general

Wu-Tang Clan

Not that’d we’d harangue the likes of Ghostface Killah and Masta Killa about their grammar choices, but the rap ensemble’s hyphen is interesting because it’s an add-in. Or add in. Whatever. Named for the kung fu movie Shaolin and Wu Tang, the group added a hyphen that – given that Wu Tang is a sword-fighting style – actually adds a little clarity for the reader. So, a hearty “well done” RZA and co.

Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho

We said names don’t count, but  the Lastminute founder’s does as her hyphen was only added when she was admitted to the House of Lords. The hyphenation was a nod to naming conventions  of peers and the fact that Martha Lane Fox’s great aunt Felicity  Lane-Fox was given a peerage in 1981 and traded as Baroness  Lane-Fox of Bramham.