Hyphen Puzzles

By Maeve Maddox

A reader sent me six phrases and asked how I would hyphenate them:

1. Anti money laundering laws
2. Non English speaking students
3. Ex editor in chief
4. Pre Anglo Saxon period
5. Pro self sustaining agenda
6. Post so called apocalypse

1. Anti money laundering laws
A glance at legal and financial sites show a preference for “anti-money laundering laws”:

The Supreme Court of Canada on Friday struck down part of the nation’s anti-money laundering and terrorist financing law pertaining to lawyers, on the grounds that the legislation infringed on lawyers’ duty to their clients.—Jurist (online legal news and research service).

History of Anti-Money Laundering Laws—US Department of the Treasury, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.

Anti-Money Laundering Template—FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority)

This punctuation strikes me as odd because the laws are not against money (anti-money), but against money-laundering. I would go with “anti-money-laundering laws” or “anti money-laundering laws.” Although chiefly a prefix, anti can stand alone as an adjective.

2. Non English speaking students
This is straightforward enough. The students do not speak English; therefore, they are “non-English-speaking students. A rule applies here: when a prefix precedes a capitalized word, a hyphen is required.

3. Ex editor in chief
My choice is to go with AP style and write “ex-editor-in-chief.” If Merriam-Webster is your guide, you’d write “ex-editor in chief.”

4. Pre Anglo Saxon period
If I had occasion to write such a phrase, I’d hyphenate it “pre-Anglo-Saxon period.” Anglo-Saxon is hyphenated to begin with, and the prefix precedes a capitalized word.

5. Pro self sustaining agenda
This is an ugly phrase that I would avoid if possible. I might write “pro-self-sustaining agenda” or “pro self-sustaining agenda.” Like anti, pro can be used as an adjective as well as a prefix.

6. Post so called apocalypse
I don’t understand what this phrase is supposed to mean. The prefix post conveys the idea of after or following. The qualifier so-called is applied to a term to indicate that the thing so qualified is not entitled to be called by that term. For example, “Your so-called dissertation is only three pages long.” A dissertation, written or delivered orally, is by definition lengthy.

The word apocalypse has more than one meaning. If its meaning in this phrase is “a disaster resulting in irreversible damage to human society or the environment on a global scale,” it’s difficult to see how the use of so-called is applicable. If such an apocalypse has occurred, then it should be clear that it was the real thing. The word apocalypse can also mean revelation or disclosure, but I can’t think of an example in which the phrase “post so-called apocalypse” would make sense. The phrase could take two hyphens: “post-so-called apocalypse.”

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3 Responses to “Hyphen Puzzles”

  • Mike Duda

    Post so called apocalypse

    Seems pretty clear to me, but I may be a freak. Think teenager drama…

    Teen: You forgot to get TS-tickets?! This is the apocalypse!
    Dad: Trust me. Post so-called apocalypse, the world will continue to turn.

  • Jean Kearsley

    Concerning the last example: why not “so-called post-apocalypse”?

  • venqax

    You note that the word “apocalypse” has more than one meaning, and generically speaking it does. However, my guess (completely without context, admittedly) is that the author of Number 6 is taking the position that *apocalypse* in fact does not mean “a disaster resulting in irreversible damage to human society or the environment on a global scale,” but properly only “means a revelation or disclosure”. Therefore, the insertion of “so-called” is intended in reference to what in the writer’s opinion is the misuse of the word apocalypse. IOW, “The post so-called apocalypse” would indicate after the event (maybe the cataclysmic end of the world) that is quite obvious but that you are wrongly calling an apocalypse. That would answer your objection that, “it’s difficult to see how the use of so-called is applicable. “

    “If such an apocalypse has occurred, then it should be clear that it was the real thing.”

    Well, not if you don’t buy that first definition of apocalypse’s meaning. OTOH, I agree that the headline with no hyphenation at all doesn’t really make any sense.

    “I don’t understand what this phrase is supposed to mean.”

    But if we stuck to the original meaning of apocalypse, and meant to say, “after the event you are wrongly calling an apocalypse,” would the 2 hyphens version be the correct one? Does that make sense?

    “Your so-called dissertation is only three pages long.” A dissertation, written or delivered orally, is by definition lengthy.

    After the so-called apocalypse that kicks of “The Walking Dead” An apocalypse is a revelation, disclosure, or vision, not an event that destroys the world.

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