AP Stylebook Changes Hyphen Guidance, Ushering In Total Chaos


Everything was going just fine on a sleepy Wednesday afternoon and then the AP Stylebook had to go and upset the apple cart with an Earth-shattering news bomb. Apparently, the long-standing practice of inserting a hyphen in a compound modifier was re-examined and deemed unnecessary if the modifier is “commonly recognized as one phrase, and if the meaning is clean and unambiguous without the hyphen.”

So say goodbye to first-half run and hello to first half run. One looks objectively worse than the other, but apparently the Associated Press is fine with this. When we talk about trying times for the media, this is what we talk about.

This is all probably small potatoes to the reader. But hyphenating words when they need to be hyphenated is a habit that will be impossible for journalists of a certain age to stop doing. And that’s a good thing because the presence or absence of them is one of the clearest indicators of the quality of writing and editing for a given piece.

Hyperbole and morphing into Chicken Little does not come naturally. Yet one cannot help but wonder at how much chaos this is going to unleash as the definition put in place is certainly open to interpretation. There will be so many terse back-and-forth discussions in newsrooms and Slack channels as this new practice is adopted and, invariably, people are going to lose their cool.

Dark times ahead, folks. Dark times.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t make a plea here for everyone to think about the hyphens that have served so bravely through the years. Their sacrifice was not in vain.