Posted by: Jack Henry | May 19, 2020

Editor’s Corner: To-day, to-morrow, to hyphens

Dear Editrix,

Being a silent movie fan, I see a lot of “to-day” and “to-morrow.” I thought that maybe this changed in the 1930s, but the other night I was watching a documentary and the 1950s film clips showed a “to-day.” When was the hyphen finally dropped?

Signed, High-Fan.

Dear High-Fan,

You and the author of this article (DC Blog Spot) have made several of the same observations as far as the time line of the hyphenation of these terms. His observations are in literature, and he explains the trends as follows:

The origins of the practice lie in etymology: the three words were originally (in Old and Middle English) a preposition (to) followed by a separate word (dæg, niht, morwen). As a sense of their use as single notions developed, so the two elements were brought together in writing, but with considerable variation in usage, seen from the earliest records (tonight, to night, to-night).

The view that they should be written as separate words was reinforced when Johnson listed them under to as to day, to morrow, and to night (with no hyphen). Nineteenth-century dictionaries opted for the hyphen in all three words….

The OED shows hyphenated examples throughout the 19th century and into the early 20th. Latest examples are of to-day (1912), to-night (1908), and to-morrow (1927, with a possible further example as late as 1959). I have personal experience of all three words continuing to be hyphenated as late as the 1970s, as for some years now I’ve been editing the poetry of John Bradburne, who died in 1979, and in all his writing he consistently hyphenates. But he is a poet very much aware of the past, and regularly uses archaisms.

The article continues to say the by the 1990s, most popular dictionaries removed the hyphenated option as an acceptable spelling. Today’s Merriam-Webster does not list any of the three hyphenated versions as correct.

As an editor, I have to say that hyphens are already tricky, so I appreciate the latest move to get rid of them from the words.

Enjoy your day!

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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