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Introducing Multi-Hyphenates

Yesterday Jane from Augusta, Maine, wrote me with this question:

A recent article in our newspaper used the word “multi-hypenate” to describe a person. It’s not in any of our dictionaries, including big, little, or medical. I have searched the Internet to find a meaning. Is it a word or is it a misspelling? Am I going nuts or just behind the times?

When I first read Jane’s message, I wondered how I could help. If she had searched her dictionaries and the Internet, what could I add? But then I thought more about her suggestion: Is it a word or is it a misspelling? That strange hypenate looked a lot like a familiar word: hyphenate.

The intended word was multi-hyphenate, which can also be spelled without the hyphen.

According to Double-Tongued Word Wrester Dictionary, the noun multihyphenate means “a person who has (or who is known for having) several main occupations.” Example:

Actor-director-producer Clint Eastwood was born in 1930.

Double-Tongued Word Wrester Dictionary cites a use of multi-hyphenate as early as 1969, but the word has not become popular. OneLook Dictionary Search, a search engine listing hundreds of dictionaries around the globe, lists no other online dictionary with a definition for multi-hyphenate.

Usually when I learn a new word, I look for opportunities to use it. But I plan to forget multi-hyphenate. It’s pointless to use a word that few readers will recognize or be able to find in their dictionaries. Besides that, with its strings of right-hand letters, the word is difficult to type.

Jane, you reader-researcher-questioner, thanks for introducing me to multi-hyphenate. That is the last time I will type it.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.