A dash of pedantry


A small matter, this week, but one of great interest to me: to hyphenate or not to hyphenate?  I have always written “money laundering” but there are those – among them, the Economist newspaper, whose style guide I trust in almost every other way – who prefer “money-laundering”.  To my eye that looks ugly, but I have to admit that when it comes to its opposite, “anti money-laundering” (Economist) makes more immediate sense than “anti-money laundering” (me).

Being a graduate in English, a novelist and a big-time pedant, I am keen to get this right.  The Oxford English Dictionary tells us:  “Hyphens are used in many compound words to show that the component words have a combined meaning (e.g. a pick-me-up, mother-in-law, good-hearted) or that there is a relationship between the words that make up the compound: for example, rock-forming minerals are minerals that form rocks.  But you don’t need to use them in every type of compound word.”  Ha – so even if it does count as a compound word, it’s not compulsory to hyphenate.

My version is supported by the entry for “laundering” in the Collins English Dictionary, which actually gives “money laundering” as a non-hyphenated phrase.  And this also reveals the exciting news that the word “laundering” is increasing in popularity and usage – which I assume shows a growing fascination with financial crime rather than with housework.  So what do you think, dear readers: should we hyphenate or not?