Over on Read Street, The Sun’s book blog, a reader has suggested a new punctuation mark, the tentative hyphen. It’s the tilde, to be used when the writer isn’t sure whether to write two words, a single word or a hyphenated compound word. It’s hedge-your-bets punctuation.
I have an alternative solution to the problem of not knowing whether a compound should be hyphenated: Buy a dictionary. They’re in the stores.
Here’s another: Hire a copy editor to go over your writing. There’s probably more amiss with it than the hyphenation.
Proposals for new punctuation should be greeted with skepticism. Remember the interrobang from the 1960s? The question mark superimposed over an exclamation point was supposed to be handy for statements that were exclamatory but in the form or nature of a question — what the hell, for example. It seems to have passed on, along with the typewriter that was necessary to produce it.* A period usually suffices.
There is also the irony mark, or snark, a reverse quotation mark that a French writer decided would be useful to indicate a statement with an extra layer of meaning, such as sarcasm. Uh-huh. Let’s repunctuate Swift’s “Modest Proposal” with snarks to see how much that improves the work. If your mastery of irony is so feeble that you need punctuation to indicate it, you’re playing out of your league.
As I suggested in a comment at Read Street, perhaps it would be better to master the punctuation we have before reaching for novelties. What the hell.
* If Microsoft has included it in Word, just don’t tell me.