Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

So, I looked through the preview of the author's "High Moor" which is available on Amazon.co.uk and I see things like:

"One of them picked up what looked like a dog's hind-leg and put it in a white plastic bag."

"With the two-week Easter holiday just over a month away, ..."

"The woman's white hair was hidden by a red-head scarf, ..."

"The door of one of the expensive motor-homes opened ..."

Seems to me Amazon may have a point about some of his use of hyphens.




I'm quite sure that "two-week Easter holiday" is correct in both English(US) and English(UK)[1]. The use of the hyphen in such examples is somewhat analogous to Haskell's use of "$" as a precedence operator, so we know which word modifies which.

But you're correct that the others examples are erroneous, some egregiously so. I had to read the "red-head scarf" several times before I was finally able to parse out the presumed meaning: "red headscarf".

1. Source: me. I worked for 10 years as a translator, editor, and proofreader for Lionbridge and many other multinational publishing and localization companies before moving into software development.


Yes. I wasn't clear enough. I was not implying that "two week Easter holiday" was incorrect (although I think it would be OK to go with "two week Easter holiday). My point was that 3 of 4 uses of hyphens were wrong.


> My point was that 3 of 4 uses of hyphens were wrong.

Wrong according to whom?

We're not talking about writers for a newspaper or magazine, where everyone is expected to adhere to a single style for the sake of uniformity.

James Joyce did a number of things "wrong" both grammatically and stylistically, but that was part of the artistic expression. It's weird, to say the least, for a bookstore to enforce style. When I walk into a physical bookstore, I expect that the bookstore has made some decisions around book placement[0] for the sake of optimizing sales, and books that have bad grammar may not be as attractive. But I don't expect that they have made decisions directly based on the grammar of the books ("we dislike the way you use punctuation, so we're going to put your book in the back of the store, or take it off the shelves altogether").

Amazon is now trying to eliminate the need for publishers, but in that process we should be clear not to conflate the role of the publishers (which includes editing) and the role of the marketplace.

[0] Incidentally, most brick & mortar bookstores are organized by genre and then either title or author name, so the extent to which they can even 'demote' books is generally limited to the ability to place books "cover out" instead of "spine out". With the exception of keeping adult-themed books in a special section and promoting certain books in a themed display (e.g. "Staff Picks for Summertime Reads"), bookstores don't really take heavy action against books based on content.


The writer is no James Joyce.


That's a really poor response.

When Joyce published his first novel as a nobody, people like you would've said something equally thoughtless about his grammar, followed up by a glib "the writer is no Arthur Conan Doyle."


James Joyce followed proper English when he published his first novel as a nobody. (And his second novel, and third.) He was also a professor of English at the time, so he wasn't really "a nobody" even then. So he may not be the best test case.


His point entirely stands despite your carelessly dismissing one part of it.


Absolutely agree. It is called 'artistic freedom' after all. Right?


Style is not the same as making a mistake.


And who should be the arbitrator of style vs. mistake?


It's easy enough to ask the person that wrote it. Why, do you think answering that is typically difficult or unclear?

And to be clear I mean asking about specific instances, so don't point back at the blog post, which seems to be a case of Amazon making a mistake. All of the hyphens quoted from Moonstruck are grammatically correct.


True, if the process just involves asking the author then I have no issues with that, and it should be easy to resolve.

I do think it is difficult for anyone other than the author to answer that question though. For me, only the "red-head scarf" example would be a mistake, but others in this thread indicated that 3 or 4 of the examples were wrong for them.


"Wrong according to whom?"

According to the customer who complained about them (who is, after all, the person with the money), and anyone else who's familiar with standard English usage.

Consciously choosing to break the rules and breaking them because you don't know any better are two different things.


> According to the customer who complained about them (who is, after all, the person with the money)

There is a time honoured tradition regarding what to do if you have money and don't like the artistic style of the author, and "demand their publisher pulls the book or forces the author to change their style to suit you" isn't it. (Not to mention all the happy customers who gave the book 4 & 5 star ratings and didn't complain, who are, after all, also people with money)


> Consciously choosing to break the rules and breaking them because you don't know any better are two different things.

And how did Amazon decided on which was the reason for his actions?


The preview of Moonstruck (the book in question) is also available through Amazon. Here are the first few hypens I can see:

"There could be no-one there, ..."

"...into a razor-filled muzzle ..."

"... sleep, muscular, brown-furred monster."

"... through her blood-soaked fur."

"... propelled backwards in mid-leap, ..."

"... the red-haired woman ..."

"... a tall, grey-haired man ..."

"mid-thirties"

"mother-in-law"

Not my style of fiction, but most of these don't offend my sense of grammar either. I think "mid-leap" is the only one that slightly jars.


Beginners mistake. These are minus (-) not hyphen (‐) characters. </unicode-jibe>


You are being downvoted but apparently that is what /r/books is claiming the reason is: https://www.reddit.com/r/books/comments/2pcnv2/amazon_remove...

I guess it causes issues with bad screen readers.


Beginner's mistake. "Beginners mistake" can only be used as the start of a sentence as in "Beginners mistake azure for blue."


Some beginners mistake "Beginners mistake" as a phrase that can only be used at the start of a sentence. :)


I'd say most of that usage is unnecessary clutter. Hyphens are intended to disambiguate grouping of word pairs. I haven't heard of anything called a "dog hind" that could have a leg.

"The woman's white hair was hidden by a red-head scarf, ..."

That's incorrect, isn't it? It's reinforcing the potential confusion that the hyphen is meant to avoid. Unless she really was wearing a red scarf made from someone's head?


I don't know, in mathematics we say that we have a K-vector space when it really means K-(vector space).


To be fair, "two-week" isn't wrong... but it's in bad company.


Yes. What they were going for was "red head-scarf", but that is also questionable. I've only ever seen "head scarf" unhyphenated.


I can't remember where I came across it (possibly Gowers' Plain Words), but I like the rule that you should hyphenate to avoid ambiguity but not otherwise. E.g. is "a red head scarf" a red scarf for the head or a scarf for red heads? From context, it should be obvious, but hyphenating "head scarf" would make it explicit. (Of course, you could always avoid the problem entirely by using "headscarf" instead.)

There are some exceptions: e.g., I've read you should always write "Douglas-fir" instead of "Douglas fir" because it's not actually a fir.


If you need an hyphen to make clear what a "read head scarf" is, shouldn't you rewrite your sentence?


Well I don't know if this is right, but if I had to guess

red-head scarf might suggest that the flairs at the end of the scarf are red, and that it just a normal scarf https://www.google.ca/search?safe=off&tbm=isch

where as a red head-scarf would be a red... head scarf. https://www.google.ca/search?q=head+scarf&tbm=isch

Dunno. Needs more context frankly.


Yeah, all of those are pretty bad. I would have complained too if I had read this book.


There are one or two errors in usage, which are down to the editor not the writer, but the majority of them are correct (if not always necessary) in British English. His argument was based on the fact that Amazon told him to remove all of them rather than giving the book another proofread and removing the incorrect ones.


Two-week is correct.


Ah, yeah, good point. I didn't read that one.


I read that latter one as specifically meaning a scarf made out of red head


Here's the thing though - the writer should have the artistic liberty to use the punctuation they desire.


Yes, but there is a difference between intentionally using bad grammar to invoke ambiguity, and unintentionally getting in the way of a story because the writer doesn't know better.


Sad that he blew £1000 on an "editor" incapable of tidying up the hyphenation mess.


To be fair, we don't know how much worse the text was prior to bringing an editor on.


re: "red-head scarf", I'm skeptical that the artistic intention was that it was a scarf for redheads being repurposed for white hair. Though I have not read the story so that might be part of the plot for all I know.


It could be a scarf that somehow makes you look like a redhead.


Playing devil's advocate, Amazon should have the liberty to choose what to sell. Obviously, they cannot abuse, bad publicity is bad for sales, but in this case -IANANES- (I'm not a native english speaker) the examples sound bad. "red-head scarf" is -to me, IANANES- a scarf made of a red head or a scarf specially designed for redheads.


Good point, I've caught a few other things that grind my gears.

"Are there people out there so fucking mind-bogglingly stupid that the inclusion of a – between two words confuses them enough to be torn from the story and ruin the reading experience so much that they felt obliged to write to Amazon and complain?"

I think that the author insulting someone who have paid for his book is not something intelligent, nice or professional.

"Do they need to do something about the quality of the ebooks on their device? Oh yes. Absolutely no question about it."

I was going to argue freedom of speech and the ability to form ideas the way the author intended is what matters here, but the author himself doesn't seem to agree himself.


> I think that the author insulting someone who have paid for his book is not something intelligent, nice or professional.

That's fairly straight up UK english hyperbole. Calling the author stupid and unprofessional because you're unfamiliar with the way UK english works is a trifle unfair.

Edit: I'm specifically talking about being unfamiliar with that style of hyperbole here. I am not defending the hyphenation. That's why I didn't mention the hyphenation at all originally. But apparently that wasn't enough, so now I'm explicitly saying I wasn't talking about the thing I didn't mention. Hope That Helps, Have A Nice Day.


He didn't say the author was stupid, nor did he say he was unprofessional. He said the author's behavior wasn't nice. And it isn't. There's no question in any English reader's mind (US or UK) that the author's heavy-handed use of hyphenation is grammatically incorrect. The buyers of the book DID have their intelligence insulted, and on closer examination, it appears that those customers are actually correct.

I see no reason not to insist on some kind of quality here. We're not talking about poetic license or writing to reflect a dialect, we're talking about the author believing hyphens are correct for a given passage. In the vast majority of his usage, his beliefs are incorrect, and his lack of grammatical awareness (enforced by his own post) is making for a bad reading experience.


I'm still not sure the bookstore is the best place to go for grammar enforcement, rather than suggesting he hire an editor. But Amazon's foray into supporting hands-off self-publishing is at war with their need to have a minimum quality level to avoid scaring off customers. An actual working rating system would help, if anyone had managed to invent such a thing.

I'm also of the opinion that if I'm reading a book with such egregiously awful editing, I'd stop reading it, rather than ask for corrections. If the editing is bad, are the ideas any better?


I'm in a quandary: doesn't the bookstore have a right to set a quality standard (not a poetic one), and a right to protect itself from chargebacks from unhappy customers?

Is the phrase "self published" really correct for Amazon and others to use? It could be argued that Amazon is the one publishing it, and they're really letting you bypass the editors and sales reps from a print-based publishing house to get your works onto Kindles.

I really don't know. The situation makes me uncomfortable as a creator of content, certainly, but the author's railing against the company for protecting its customers and defending against liability from credit card issuers ... That just feels like someone bitching out of a sense of entitlement, and history shows (all over the world) that people who thoughtlessly feel entitled are rarely able to be convinced that they, in fact, are the ones that need to change.


I have edited my comment to make it clearer that you weren't replying to anything I actually said. Hope that helps.


I was replying to what you said. His hyperbole regarding unintelligent customers was the behavior that was called out as not nice, professional or intelligent.

His piss-poor use of hyphens (see what I did there?), however, isn't hyperbole. Hyperbole is a rhetorical device (and the greatest thing ever!), and unless he intended to evoke an emotional response in his readers by their incorrect and non-poetic application, it's just bad form; Being from the UK has bugger all to do with it.


It's strange that you educate us on what hyperbole and rhetorical devices are, yet can't recognise both those things in a sentence which begins "Are there people out there...?". The author is saying the direct opposite; that people aren't that stupid.


> I was going to argue freedom of speech and the ability to form ideas the way the author intended is what matters here, but the author himself doesn't seem to agree himself.

The example he gives is of auto-generated books uploaded for the purpose of gaming algorithms for profit. I'm as much a free-speech fundamentalist as the next guy, but that is no more a free speech issue than the Nigerian governor emailing me the unique opportunity to take a cut of $80,000,000 worth of penis enlargement pills.


One of the things I like about the Kindle is the option when reading to highlight a block of text and flag it as an error, which I've previously used for obvious typos, and the occasional badly placed hyphen. Having seen this and the implication that it can result in automated removal of a book from the Kindle store I think I'm going to stop that now.


That's fair, but they hardly hinder readability. I think that's well within artistic license and should hardly be automatically (!?) suppressed from the store.


It kind of threw me that he used the word 'semi-colon' in his defense about not having too many extraneous hyphens - apparently that is an acceptable variant, but the most common spelling I've seen has always been 'semicolon'. Is this a British thing? Or does he just really like his hyphens?


None of these are bad enough to ban a book. Even though "red-head scarf" is strange, it sounds like intentional wordplay in that sentence. Remember, writing is a creative activity. It's not engineering.


Those to me seem like a perfectly acceptable use of a hyphen.


'red-head scarf' certainly isn't an acceptable use of a hyphen, unless the scarf is woven from the hair of a red-haired person.


I read that as "A scarf that red haired people wear"


That would be a legitimate way to parse that phrase, but it's far more likely that this is a typo for "red head-scarf". There isn't a particular kind of scarf worn by red-heads, AFIAK.


Admittedly, I thought of the sexual double-entendre. Muff can make a nice scarf...

But I digress.


Motorhome is not hyphenated.


I blame spellcheck. In many cases the most legible solution is a German-style mashingwordstogether, but spellcheck systems highlight those so people hyphenate instead.

For example, spellcheck has a curly red underline right now. But would it really look better as spell-check?


Spell check, no hyphen. Easiest way to figure out what needs a hyphen IMO is to google it. Otherwise, just try to avoid hyphenated words, a simpler word will often do.


I think it would be more grammatically correct to call it "spell-check" or even "spell check" instead of "spellcheck".


Spelling check... you aren't checking spells.

At least, this is what I've been told by a very picky guy...




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: