Santa’s Communications Consultant, Day 9: The hyphen’s progress

After an arduous couple of weeks during which I have spent many hours counseling Santa’s correspondents regarding their grammar and usage choices, I am tired! However, after drinking some hot chocolate garnished with candy canes, I now have a sudden burst of energy. I think it would be nice to write my own letter to Santa to invite him, Mrs. Claus, and the elves to visit my house on Christmas Day (after the deliveries are made). In my letter, I will mention that we could have dinner together, eat lots of Christmas cookies, and have a…err…what should I call it? You know, when everyone sings songs together. We all SAY the same thing when referring to this type of event, but we write it differently.

It’s a sing-along, or a singalong. Both are used in standard English, and here’s why: A compound word, in its early days, is often hyphenated. Eventually, as the word becomes more commonly used, the hyphen drops out, and voila! We are left with a true compound word. Currently, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “sing-along/singalong” is in that transitional phase.

Whichever of these options I choose is perfectly acceptable. However, if I want to write this letter in standard English, I will not write “sing-a-long,” which I’ve noticed so many people doing recently. This is another of those errors whose origin remains unknown. I can speculate, though, that “sing-a-long” arose after “phone-a-thon.” “Phone-a-thon” is an imitation of “marathon,” using the same number of syllables. “Sing(-)along,” though, is a different case from “phone-a-thon”—it’s two real, complete words, combined to represent a concept. Why would we insert a hyphen in the middle of a word (“along”) unnecessarily?

So, I’ll make my decision: if I want to recall the origins of this compound word, I’ll use the hyphen; if I want to be progressive, I’ll omit it. We’ll see! Let’s just hope that Santa approves of my choice!

bitstrips singalong

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