A dash of pedantry

A small matter, this week, but one of great interest to me: to hyphenate or not to hyphenate?  I have always written “money laundering” but there are those – among them, the Economist newspaper, whose style guide I trust in almost every other way – who prefer “money-laundering”.  To my eye that looks ugly, but I have to admit that when it comes to its opposite, “anti money-laundering” (Economist) makes more immediate sense than “anti-money laundering” (me).

Being a graduate in English, a novelist and a big-time pedant, I am keen to get this right.  The Oxford English Dictionary tells us:  “Hyphens are used in many compound words to show that the component words have a combined meaning (e.g. a pick-me-up, mother-in-law, good-hearted) or that there is a relationship between the words that make up the compound: for example, rock-forming minerals are minerals that form rocks.  But you don’t need to use them in every type of compound word.”  Ha – so even if it does count as a compound word, it’s not compulsory to hyphenate.

My version is supported by the entry for “laundering” in the Collins English Dictionary, which actually gives “money laundering” as a non-hyphenated phrase.  And this also reveals the exciting news that the word “laundering” is increasing in popularity and usage – which I assume shows a growing fascination with financial crime rather than with housework.  So what do you think, dear readers: should we hyphenate or not?

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18 Responses to A dash of pedantry

  1. Roy McCarthy says:

    I generally over-hyphenate (see) but I just go by what feels right. In your examples I’d follow your practice, with the hyphen only after the anti.

    I guess that a respected style guide would help a writer if they’re unsure, but I can’t say that I’ve ever resorted to it.

  2. mariecaffi says:

    Hi. As a fellow English graduate and pedant (as well as AML specialist) I also find “money-laundering” hideous (in more than one sense) and do not hyphenate.

    The question is different for anti money laundering: are we anti-money or are we anti-laundering? The prefix Anti is usually hyphenated (anti-apartheid, anti-corruption), and in fact my MS Office gives me a helpful blue squiggly line suggesting it should be hyphenated.

    I find anti-money-laundering too cumbersome, so I go for AML ☺

  3. CDWOS says:

    Susan, With you on “anti-” but not “money-laundering” (Ugly). As they have cropped and I admit to it being audience dependent I am coming due to their misuse and abuse to loathe and detest the never ending use of TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms for any readers who may not have come across the expression). Sadly the vast number of those who insist on using them seem to believe that it makes them seem knowledgeable, clever and “on it”. One day when their egos have subsided they will realise that it actually displayed a lack of subject knowledge papered over with jargon. Silly anecdote to support my point – Having sat through a presentation for a couple of hours I was asked for a comment. I requested that the presenter please explain and/or stop using TLAs. Instant embarrassment (theirs not mine) as they didn’t know what TLA stood for! I rest my case ( I mean rant!)

    • Only yesterday I got myself into a twist with RBA, BRA and NRA – so I can sympathise!

    • David Maxwell says:

      TLA is not an acronym – it is an initialism, as it does not form a word. SCUBA and PIN are acronyms (so PIN number is tautology!)

      • David, I did not know that! So what about AML – if people say it to rhyme with “camel” (not that I’ve heard it often, but I have heard it). And yes, PIN number annoys me too – as does “the hoi polloi” (as “hoi” means “the”). Aren’t we picky – but where would the world be without the nitpickers!

  4. From one pedant to another, how about using an “en dash”….? (smaller than a hyphen and so called because it takes up the space of the letter “N”) where one of the elements in a compound adjective is an open compound (made up of two words with a space between them). So it think it should be anti-money laundering (referring to a process that acts against the laundering of money).

    • Thank you for your comment, Des, and welcome to the blog. Hmmm, I’m liking the sound of the en dash – it’s a solution I hadn’t considered… I will investigate whether Word is actually en dashing when it hyphenates, or if there is indeed a third way.

  5. Alex Erskine says:

    I think laundering stands by itself (money laundering is an oxymoron, and is too narrow), so it should be anti-laundering. Laundering covers not just money, but also securities, goods etc.

    • I’m not sure that it’s exactly an oxymoron, as the two words do not contradict each other (as in “honest fraudster”…) but I had not considered that we might be limiting ourselves. Perhaps we should start talking about “asset laundering” or “value laundering”. That said, old dogs and all that – I might not be able to make that change!

  6. Michael Underdown says:

    Perhaps the Germans have the answer: forego hyphens and word spacing completely. Geldwäsche!

  7. Hi, as a fellow pedant, cunning linguist and compliancy Sarnian, I had to go back to first principles, and to that source document and bible of all french AML commonly known to everyone ( but apparently not to itself) as the EU 4th AML Directive. In true European style, it also ignores the controversial hyphen, perhaps following “old school ” legal experts who prefer no punctuation at all in order to avoid ambiguity, in spite of French legal cases involving the apostrophe. However, when it comes to defining “AML” they do use the troublesome “anti-money laundering”. Is anti-money like anti-matter or is it a new isotope? It must surely be anti – money laundering, or for the hard of understanding, as above, the unambiguous “anti – money-laundering”? There are of course, no such issues for the Germans, as pointed out above, nor also for the French, whose “lutte contre le blanchiment d’argent” ( or, more snappily, LCBA) sidesteps the issue with that other much debated punctuation, the apostrophe. And there opens up a whole new debate – PEP’s or PEPs? Is it ever correct to make a plural with an apostrophe? Discuss.

    • Welcome to the blog, Tioth, and thank you for your comment. I very much like the idea of anti-money being like anti-matter. Leaving out punctuation entirely worries me, not least because “anti money laundering” could end up as “antimony laundering”, which requires scientific skills which I lack. As for PEP’s – shudder! You can NEVER pluralise with an apostrophe, says the determined pedant within me.

  8. Marcel12 says:

    Thank you Susan. I have enjoyed your training sessions in the past in Guernsey, and even once won the coveted pencil ! I’m glad you agree about pluralising with apostrophes – often done with TWAs ( not TWA’s) such as PEP. So the French genitive solves the problem, although they can’t resist being more passionate about it and making it a struggle.
    Luckily, it appears that Guernsey’s latest Handbook was drafted by people who have some expertise in English, as there PEPs are PEPs not PEP’s. However, they have also continued with the concept of laundering “anti-money” – which presumably should never be brought into contact with money, as the universe could be destroyed. ( an idea for a future Dr Who episode perhaps?) And talking of the new Handbook’s PEP provisions, on the one hand they do provide some greater certainty for their classification, but at the same time it introduces further uncertainty – e.g.whether they had ” … power to direct the spending of significant sums…” almost as good as the legal term “reasonable”.
    So, in Guernsey the catch phrase applied to PEPs is no longer “once a PEP, always a PEP”, but now “once a PEP, sometimes always a PEP … probably.”

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