Last week, I looked at what the dictionaries and style guides have to say about the structure x-year-olds, as in We hosted a party for eight 10-year-olds. Those references that listed it used the hyphenated version, but I have a habit of using it without hyphens: 10 year olds.
In my Copyediting III course this past spring, one of my students wanted to know why I had marked on her editing test that 24-year-olds should be 24 year olds. Doesn’t the phrase contain hyphens?
As happens with copyeditors sometimes, I had made the correction reflexively. My thinking was that the x-year-olds form, where x is a number, is a noun, so hyphens aren’t needed. But the student’s question made me stop and think. And I couldn’t answer my student without some research first.
As vocabulary and usage shift beneath our feet, it becomes a challenge to make informed and appropriate editorial decisions. Embrace or shun singular "they"? Abandon or hold fast to "whom"? Does the "comprise/compose" distinction still work?
Nearly three years ago, I wrote an article for this newsletter titled “The Case for Singular They.” [See our October–November 2012 issue. –Ed.] I took what I felt was a controversial stand, arguing that if a writer wants to use singular they, we should let them. Although it still may be a controversial stand, it seems that we may have reached a tipping point in the argument about gender-neutral pronouns.