Thursday, November 26, 2009

What if We Promise to Use Only French Hyphens?

This may come as a surprise to those living in truly free democracies, but in some places in Canada it is actually illegal to display signs in English. I know the jackbooted language gestapo have been on the prowl in Quebec for decades, looking for a shopkeeper displaying an "open" sign whom they can threaten with fines, imprisonment, and the withholding of croissants. But I was dismayed to learn from this article that similar crimes against linguistic liberty are in danger of occurring in New Brunswick as well. The author makes an impassioned plea for freedom of multilingual speech, in a piece that includes this line:

...what's at stake here, with this proposed language legislation, is the right of each and every person in the community to choose for him or herself what goes on the sign outside their business.

A wonderful sentiment, but what a missed opportunity. How often, after all, does one get to pull a suspended hyphen out of one's bag of punctuation tricks? A suspended hyphen holds your place while you wait to fill in the suffix on the end of a complementary term. Like so: "him- or herself."  Pretty cool, isn't it? So rarely needed, but when deftly applied...well, let's just say I felt damn sexy just writing that.