Grappling with hyphens and the rest

It takes me a while to read books. My eyes are too big for my eyes. But I finally got around to reading Between You & Me, by Mary Norris of New Yorker copy-editing fame. The book was thoroughly lovable for anyone who works or plays with words. At different points, Norris visits a pencil-sharpener museum and crashes a milk truck. She also devotes a whole chapter to hyphens.

In a story by Karen Russell, a boy is making fun of a girl who went to church, and asks, “How was it? . . . Delicious God-bread?” I was persuaded by another proofreader—another unique person with her own ideas and the brief to impose them—to remove the hyphen in “God-bread” and make it two words. But it bothered me without the hyphen, and later, walking back to the office after brooding over a sandwich, I realized that the analogy was not with, say, “raisin bread”: “God bread” was not studded with gods. It was God. First chance I got, I restored the hyphen in “God-bread.” Transubstantiation in a hyphen.

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