Minister Morneau hiked down … what?

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Faith Jones writes:

I live in Canada, where even our Prime Minister goes canoeing and snowshoeing and stuff, so when I saw this headline on the CBC:

… I assumed the Finance Minister was hiking down an actual mountain somewhere in or around Ottawa. Then I got to "payment" and, because of my previous confusion, I still had it in my mind that the verb was "hikes down" but now I thought it was meant metaphorically, and tried to figure out what these "payment rules" were and what "hiking down" such a rule would entail.

Yeah. Minister Morneau has increased the minimum DOWN PAYMENT needed on houses over $500,000. Took me a good minute and a half to get there.


  1. GH said,

    December 12, 2015 @ 6:03 am

    I'd argue that this is not really a pure crash blossom, since the sentence is incorrect as written according to common convention (compound modifier should be hyphenated: "down-payment rules").

    [(myl) That "convention" is pretty widely ignored. Thus a Google News search for "down payment assistance" turns up many thousands of hits, and only 17 of the first 100 that I checked were hyphenated. The NYT index finds 63 instances of the same pattern, of which 25 (=39.7%) are hyphenated. In H.R. 480, the “Housing America’s Workforce Act of 2015”, the phrase "down payment assistance" is not hyphenated.

    The idea that compound modifiers should be hyphenated is, I think, one of those "wouldn't it be nice if" hypothetical rules, like Fowler's infamous suggestion about which and that, promoted by a band of believers but never actually characteristic of the standard written language.]

  2. Jerry Friedman said,

    December 12, 2015 @ 11:10 am

    I think it's true that the hyphenation rule is widely ignored. I suspect that it's different from the which-that rule, though, in that it affects comprehensibility. The first study I looked at found that hyphenation helps comprehension of ambiguous sentences but (to my grave disappointment) interferes with comprehension of unambiguous sentences. A poster by an undergraduate about an eye-tracking study found that hyphenation of phrases such as "human[-]rights activist" reduced rereading. I'll leave it to others to evaluate those studies.

    In a quick search, I couldn't find anything about the effect of the which-that rule on comprehension.

  3. Pflaumbaum said,

    December 12, 2015 @ 11:16 am

    It's also not actually the rules that are being hiked. Though I don't think correcting that would make the headline much more parsable.

  4. Q. Pheevr said,

    December 12, 2015 @ 1:20 pm

    Finance Minister hikes down garden path.

  5. Jerry Friedman said,

    December 12, 2015 @ 1:27 pm

    With a new toy to try out, I thought I'd use the BYU interface on the American GB corpus to see the history of hyphenation. The first column is "short story [noun]" and the second is "short-story [noun]". The third is the first divided by the second.

    1840: 1 0
    1850: 2 2
    1860: 0 0
    1870: 0 2
    1880: 10 9 1.1
    1890: 73 202 0.36
    1900: 258 658 0.39
    1910: 952 1,734 0.55
    1920: 1,342 1,872 0.72
    1930: 1,467 1,053 1.4
    1940: 1,160 1,558 0.74
    1950: 1,178 2,323 0.51
    1960: 1,911 2,914 0.66
    1970: 4,192 4,074 1.0
    1980: 5,754 6,014 0.96
    1990: 9,219 6,915 1.3
    2000: 10,251 6,325 1.6

    Most of the hits without the hyphen look like phrases that could be hyphenated, though there are hits on "short story demands" where "demands" is actually a verb, and on "short story La" where "La" is the first word of a title in a Romance language.

    It seems that Kids These Days may not be hyphenating as much.

    (Middle-aged People These Days don't know how to make nice tables in blog comments.)

  6. un malpaso said,

    December 14, 2015 @ 2:34 pm

    Remember to save your energy when you hike down a payment rule, because you always have to hike back up too.

  7. DWalker said,

    December 15, 2015 @ 12:52 pm

    @Jerry F: What is the "American GB Corpus"? I read that as American Great Britain".

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