If an ASCII character could feel fatigue, then I know of two that would be near death from overuse. If they were animals, PETA would be breaking into my office to set them free, and setting fire to several people's computers to ensure the abuse never happens again.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: the hyphen and the apostrophe!
The Humble Hyphen
It has come to this: I now immediately assume that any hyphen I see is misapplied and I ignore any hyphenated word. When did we decide that you were hip if you strung a bunch of irrelevant words together with hyphens? Witness these poor victims of hyphen abuse that I stumbled across this week:
- Back-out plan
- Time-sensitive decision
- Go/no-go meeting
Maybe this wouldn't be so bad if people didn't then go and leave hyphens out where they were actually needed. Here's a tip: if you must stick the noun in front of the adjective that describes it, you generally need a hyphen to let your poor reader know what you're trying to say. Better yet, just write it the normal way and accept that you might have to use another word or two to make a complete sentence. While I realize that this may require you to reduce the font size of your PowerPoint presentation to something below 54 point, believe me when I say it will be worth it.
And then we have apostrophes, or as everyone I know says, "apostrophe's." I'm trying really hard not to sound like a cantankerous old English teacher here, but please, people, can we rein in the apostrophe use now, please? The apostrophe is now officially more overexposed than Britney Spears' bellybutton. I can't open my email or even look at a newspaper circular without being assaulted by apostrophes that really shouldn't be there. Let me make this simple for everyone:
AN APOSTROPHE DOESN'T MAKE SOMETHING PLURAL.
That's right, you can write about CD's, PO's, Honda's, and how it's raining cat's and dog's, until the superfluous apostrophes litter the ground like sunflower seeds in the Red Sox dugout, but you'll still be wrong. I know, by now, that it looks a little strange to see an "s" without an apostrophe in front of it, but believe me, they exist. And when your sister's sisters come to town with their kids' dogs, you'll be wishing that you knew how to write about it to your aunt's friend in New Orleans without confusing the old biddy more than the AOL interface already has.
Whew! I feel better now.