Americans Need to Keep Hyphens in Perspective

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As an English major and an occasional copy editor, may I say that the hyphen, as tricky at times as it is versatile (think, confusingly, of dashes, en hyphens, em hyphens, etc.), is a noble and useful mark of punctuation. But it pays to keep hyphens in perspective.

In our present age and culture, the hyphen, too often seen as a mark of division, can serve us better as a mark of unity, all the more noble because that unity occurs in the richness of genuine and joyful diversity, as opposed to the insipid and sterile “politically correct” kind.

I’m just thinking, during this Independence Day week, that almost all of us in America can justly lay claim in one way or another to a hyphen. Some of us just got here. But many others of us are from families who have been in America for generations and are so mixed up genetically that our hyphens might actually extend for paragraphs. Even so, lots of us still have at least some idea of the parts of the world from whence many of our ancestors hailed. Hence, hyphens can happen.

My particular hyphen firmly links British with American. British-American.   I’ve never understood why we rarely, if ever, hear that particular hyphenated term of ancestral description. Prejudice? I don’t know. We hear of Italian-Americans, Polish-Americans, Spanish-Americans, Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, etc. Why don’t we hear of British-Americans? I’m not kidding. I really wonder.

In any case, in my case, the Shelburne & Caudle, Shropshire & Key blood mingling in my veins points back to merry old England. And, for what it’s worth, though I had nothing to do with my birth, I am absolutely okay with that. When I read the words of my personal heroes, like the man singly most responsible for leading in the defeat of Hitler in World War II, Winston Churchill (whose mother, by the way, was American and who himself near the end of his life received honorary American citizenship), I look back on the long history of British-American relations and am thankful for the exceptionally warm ties of friendship and, for most of their histories, faith, that have long bound England and America wonderfully and almost always together.

But what about your own hyphen and your own heroes? I can be happy with mine and at the same time be completely happy that you’re happy with yours. I guarantee you, I’m richer (and fatter) for having feasted on the food, enjoyed the flair, and learned to love a bunch of the customs that have come with lots of different hyphens to the nation that nurtures us all. We are first and foremost simply Americans, hyphens be celebrated or hyphens be hanged.

God, the Father of us all, hates divisiveness. He paid the highest price to unite his children. But he loves, celebrates, and makes possible genuine and joyful diversity of the very best and richest sort. If you doubt that, just visit a zoo. Or . . . America.


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Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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