Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Neither Rain, Nor Sleet, Nor Misused Hyphen...

This paragraph is from an piece about the possibility of the US Postal Service eliminating Saturday mail delivery:
The biggest problem I could see would be for those who pay their bills via USPS. An extra day for payments in-transit could translate to more late fees. Of course, this problem should take care of itself before too long -- once people realize that Saturday service has ended, and they need to mail their checks a day earlier. It's consumers' responsibility to understand how to get their bills in on-time, even if the mail service changes its policies. Besides, with each day that passes more and more Americans are choosing online or phone-based payment options, rather than rely on the mail.
 Now, I've been accused of littering my prose with an excess of em dashes--most of that criticism coming from gormless cretins who fail to see the muscular vigor with which the dash propels a reader forward--but even I confess that a humble comma would have served better here. The dash really isn't setting anything off that needs to be set off in so emphatic a fashion. At least that's what I would argue. Less arguable, however, is the use of on-time. You can talk about "on-time" delivery in a hyphenated, adjectival way but bills that come in on time do so without a hyphen. It's kind of like the everyday/every day mix-up that we see so often.

Now to the greater question. Mail delivery on Saturdays? Really? As a Canadian who hasn't see a postal carrier darken my doorway on the weekend since the heyday of wood-paneled station wagons and aerosol cheese spreads, I was astonished to find out that this was happening. The are many things we Northerners can learn from the Yanks (making booze available for sale in every corner market and gas station would be a start, if you ask me) but spending $3.5 billion a year on weekend mail distibution just seems quaintly extravagant in these austere times.