The suspension hyphen’s quiet elegance

A couple of months ago I had a conversation about suspension hyphens – hyphens used to reduce repetition in a list of words with the same modifier – with a woman who used lived in Germany. Suspension hyphens are a common feature of both Swedish and German and we talked about how elegant they were. I told her that I once used one in a document, impressing my manager with how effortlessly I’d shortened a sentence. After admiring my solution for five minutes he put the word I’d removed back in, in case its absence confused people.

And it might have: suspension hyphens are rare in English. But they do exist. A couple of weeks after lauding them, I was delighted to read this in Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend:

Hely was no good at baseball; he was always the last non-gay or -retarded kid to get picked for a team

Punctuation can be beautiful.

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