A post from Shady Characters

Miscellany № 35: Jay (±-) Z

This week, there is one punctuation-related news story that towers above all others. In the world of musical name changes, Prince’s adoption in 1993 of an unpronounceable glyph called only “Love Symbol #2” must surely retain the crown for sheer outlandishness, but Jay-Z’s reported un-hyphenation has nevertheless set the music press and mainstream media ablaze.12 It all started on the 18th of July when Billboard editor Joe Levy tweeted:

Breaking: Jay Z has dropped the hyphen from his name, according to his label. I am not kidding. (Wish I was.) Copy editors: take note.3

Within days, the story had been picked up by The Atlantic, Pitchfork Media, and many other respectable news outlets, with The Huffington Post running a tongue-in-cheek “Obituary for Jay-Z’s Hyphen”.456 @JayZsHyphen, a parody Twitter account (“Hey @WuTangClan are you guys hiring?”), appeared the very same day Levy broke the news, while Funny or Die ran a spoof Craigslist advert a few days later (“Hardworking SBL [Straight Black Line] seeking immediate, full or part-time employment [see recent photo between the words ‘part’ and ‘time’].”).78

Was it a slow news day? Certainly, the eagerness with which reporters fell on the story seems rather premature in the light of the fact that the rapper and producer had actually dropped the hyphen — or at least tentatively begun to do so — two years previously. Brian Mansfield’s 19th July article for USA Today, entitled “Jay Z’s missing hyphen? It’s been gone for two years”, rather gave the lie to Joe Levy’s excited, day-old tweet.9 Opening with the line, “This is what happens when newspapers cut back on copy editors”, Mansfield went on to explain that Jay-Z had been credited as “Jay Z” on his 2011 collaboration with Kanye West, and that the hyphen is similarly gone from Magna Carta Holy Grail, his current effort.

Less than two weeks on the furore has more or less burned itself out, with only a few laggards such as CNN bringing up the rear with posts that have rather missed their window of opportunity.10 As much as I love the hyphen and its bithorpe siblings, I can’t help but feel rather unmoved by the whole episode. What do you think? Is this a misplaced storm in a teacup, or a genuinely worthwhile news story?

In other news, David Sudweeks continues his excellent series of posts at the FontShop blog with a new treatise on Whitespace and invisible characters. This post is a little more technical than previous entries, focusing on the ins and outs of Adobe’s InDesign software, but it’s still very much worth a read. Over at the Washington Post, Ron Charles looks at the difficulties that David Gilbert’s new novel, & Sons, is causing Amazon’s search facilities.

Thanks for reading!



Prince Vault. “Album: Symbol”. Accessed July 28, 2013.








Duca, Lauren. “An Obituary for Jay-Z’s Hyphen”. The Huffington Post.


Morrissey, Josh. “Hey @WuTangClan Are You Guys Hiring?”. Twitter.








3 comments on “Miscellany № 35: Jay (±-) Z

  1. Comment posted by Brian on

    Early in its history O’Reilly put out a book titled “!%@: A Directory of Electronic Mail Addressing and Networks”. Without the subtitle, that one would be impossible to find on modern search engines.

    But what I would really like to know is the rule for alphabetizing such things! That is, if a library were alphabetize its books by title instead of by author, would David Gilbert’s novel be sorted as if it were spelled “And Sons”? Or would the ampersand be sorted separately, with the other punctuation marks? Or would it be ignored, like other leading punctuation, and be sorted under “Sons”?

    For that matter, is there even such a thing as an alphabetization rule for punctuation marks? At one time I was trying to determine if US libraries had a standardized rules for alphabetization that covered such odd cases, but I largely came up empty-handed. Even such a simple question as to whether numbers come before or after letters doesn’t seem to be standardized, though “after” does seem to be the more common rule (or at least it was before the rise of ASCII).

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Hi Brian,

      The Chicago Manual advises omitting marks of punctuation where possible, and “spelling out” those that are essential to the title or the alphabetising process. Your O’Reilly title — “!%@” — would be sorted as if it was called “exclamation point percent sign at symbol”, or a variant thereof, which takes care of the question of whether symbols come before or after letters.

      The Unicode Consortium, which defines the standard computer character set, provides a “collation” algorithm that defines how character strings are sorted, taking into account a variety of language/locale-specific cases. If the sheer length of the report is anything to go by, it is not an easy problem to solve.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Comment posted by Solo Owl on

    This is a common problem for indexes of technical books. You can have a separate index of symbols, or you can put them all before the letter A. The symbols themselves are often sorted by their ASCII or Unicode numbers.

    If you shelve your books alphabetically by title, the O’Reilly title would be first and Gilbert’s novel second, followed by A Ba Gua Zhang Quick Guide. OK, I made up the last one, but it’s possible in an eclectic library.

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