Here’s a glimpse into the scintillating world of a newspaper editorial department: We had a 10-minute debate today — while still trying to meet deadline — over whether or not to hyphenate the term pat down (pat-down?) — as in airport security pat down/pat-down.

No consensus, but the opinions were:

Three people felt that the phrase should be hyphenated because the two words were acting as a unit.

One felt that the hyphen was probably correct, but it looked wrong. That said, no matter the decision, I was supposed to remember that the two words definitely ARE hyphenated when used as an adjective (as in, “pat-down procedure”) and NOT hyphenated when used as a verb (as in, “He will pat down 5,000 people today”).

One person felt (adamantly) that the hyphen was stupid and that we were assuming that readers are too stupid to understand that the words are used as a unit, and we shouldn’t feed into that by dumbing down the paper.

I finally decided it’s peanut butter. You know, peanut butter is a word unit, not hyphenated in noun or adjectival usage. As in: “Here’s a fresh jar of peanut butter; now you can make your peanut butter toast.” Or maybe I’m just saying that to justify not changing it to hyphenated simply because I think it looks odd that way (and honestly, we wouldn’t follow half the AP Style rules if we were trying to avoid looking odd). Or maybe I only wanted an excuse to talk about peanut butter. Or maybe the decision was for my column and I did the final proofing and corrections on the page so I could do whatever I wanted … and ask for forgiveness later if it was needed.

Mostly I’m amazed that I used the term pat down more times than I used words like groped, felt up and nudie X-ray.

I’m obviously slipping at pam[at]viewfromthenorth40.com

 

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