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Typo: A Monthly Newspaper and Literary Review, Volume 4

Compounds and Compounding

page 44

Compounds and Compounding.

Printers are currently blamed whenever improper punctuation appears in print, and properly blamed when the business of pointing is left to them. But in many eases ambiguities due to defective punctuation are the result of the express directions of the author. A few weeks ago a list of certain articles in a section in the Dunedin Exhibition was compiled, giving the colloquial names of various New Zealand trees. The compositor, or the reader, plentifully « compounded » according to his lights; the editor of the Catalogue (a private one—not the general catalogue of the Exhibition) struck all the hyphens out; whereupon the reader pinned to the revise to be sent out the following protest, dealing with a few of the special instances in which his hyphens had been interfered with:—

We compound in these cases because « black, » « white, » &c, are not defining-adjectives here, but part of the name of the tree. What is « black-pine » in one district is called « red-pine » in another part of the colony. (See Kirk's Forest Flora, preface, pp. 5, &c.) The accentuation shows this, the words « -birch, » « -pine, » being enclitic. Compounding is especially required when the name is followed by a noun, making the name itself an adjective. A « black-birch slab » is a slab of wood of a tree called « black-birch » (the original nomenclator having been deficient in color-sense—as well as ignorant of botany, since the tree is a beech). A « black birch slab » (3 words) is a slab of birch either black by nature or painted black.

A « figured kauri slab » (3 words) is a slab of kauri artificially ornamented with figures, incised or drawn. A « figured-kauri slab » is a slab of a variety of kauri naturally marked with streaks in the woody tissue. The latter is what I understood to be meant in the Catalogue, but no stranger to the colony would so understand the words if not compounded.

An « entire leaved beech » (3 words) must be an untrimmed beech bearing leaves. « Entire, » as a separate adjective, can only qualify the noun « beech; » it cannot qualify the participle « leaved » (without violating an elementary rule in grammar).

Lower down in the Catalogue, the hyphen in « walking-stick » has been struck out. A « walking-stick » is a stick to walk with; a « walking stick » is a stick that is walking. Is the distinction not worth indicating in print by a hyphen, as in speech by throwing back the accent?

Again, « Dunedin Railway Station » can only be a station belonging to a Dunedin Eailway; but there is no line of this name unless it be that leading to the St. Kilda suburb.

Again, « timber used for fencing posts » —i.e., to fence posts with; « 5 chain curves » = 5 curves of 1 chain each.

Nearly all scientific books printed in good offices elsewhere follow the style of compounding that we follow, and it seems a pity to go back to the careless fashion of colonial newspapers.

The last remark would have been perhaps better omitted, as it seems to hint that the reading of the editor was rather limited. The compiler of the Catalogue returned the note with the following endorsement:—

I would point out that we are writing English, not German. Compounding words by hyphening is an innovation from America, and most objectionable. The purest English is Saxon.

On which it may be remarked that, though the Germans compound, they use hyphens very sparingly, and that the American innovation is in following the German style of agglutinating without the hyphen—e.g., « eastsoutheast » for the English « east-south-east » —as, if my memory serves me, the Editor of Typo observed in an article that appeared some months ago. The last remark of the editor implies that the Saxons, or whoever wrote (or writes) in the Saxon tongue, did not use compounds. This is a mistake if stated baldly without reservation: A.-S. manuscripts show that our ancestors both used compounds and employed a graphical method to indicate them, though they did not resort to the hyphen for this purpose (See Earle's Philology of the English Tongue, ed. 3, p. 568.) But the printer's reader did not make the compounds; he only indicated them. The compiler and those who agree with him in objecting to hyphens should alter « entire-leaved beech » to « beech bearing entire leaves, » as a Frenchman would do if he could not find or coin a single word to express the species. The compiler used compounds throughout, but strongly objected to their recognition as compounds. He impliedly charged the reader with his own deviations (if they were deviations, which is open to argument) from the standard of « pure English. » The compound is already made when the natural accent of the second word is thrown back, whether the words are put in print and hyphened or not. X.