The end of Jay-Z? World’s most famous hyphen may be going solo

This is big.

Reportedly, Jay-Z’s hyphen is being kicked out of the group. Or, as the hyphen’s press release will no doubt put it, the hyphen has decided to pursue a career as a solo artist. This usually amounts to the same thing.

Jay Z

The hyphen did not accompany Mr. Z. (Matt Rourke / Associated Press)

We are entering a dark age for punctuation, between this and the recent retirement of Jack Lew’s squiggle from public life. Like Beyoncé and Justin before him, Jay Z is breaking up the act and going solo, leaving the hyphen to fend for itself, Michelle Williams-style. “Great,” the hyphen is thinking now, finding itself in the phrase “Michelle Willliams-style,” “there I go already.”

With the hyphen’s departure, the most famous punctuation in the name of an artist is either ?uestlove’s “?” or that symbol that Prince became for a time, if we could just remember what it was.

I wonder what triggered it. Possibly the strains of balancing parenthood, careers and maintaining peace between the Jay-Z hyphen and the acute accent on Beyoncé’s E was proving too much for the Carter family, and they decided to do to the trusty “-” what your fiancée sometimes does to your cat. Maybe they were worried that little Blue Ivy would choke on it.

Punctuation never fares well in the names of musicians and celebrities. In many celebrity careers, in fact, the punctuation is the first thing to go. With Simon & Garfunkel, it was especially painful, with the ‘&’ being described as “the only member of this band less talented than Art Garfunkel.” Beyoncé kept her acute accent as a collaborator after leaving her group, but she is the exception, not the rule.

Other than that, only Ke$ha and her $ are in it for the long haul. Also “Fun.” has apparently committed to its period, at least for the short term, offering a handy example of the rule that “when a band or company requires you to do some kind of special punctuation with its name, it is always the exact opposite of the punctuation you would like to do.” Compare “Fun.” to “Yahoo!”

I am not sure what plans the hyphen has for itself. Now that it is no longer famous by proximity, it will probably start being mistaken for an em-dash again. Slate will chase it away, waving angry exclamation points. The hyphen will have to take the subway with the rest of us, where some especially riled up strangers will think it’s a minus sign and pointedly get up to sit away from it, thinking it wants to rob them of their quantities. “I’m a hyphen! I used to have brunch with President Obama!” it will murmur, feebly. But that is exactly what a minus sign who wanted to rob you of your quantities would say.

This hyphen was actually one of the last of its kind. In 2007, the Oxford English Dictionary purged a large number of hyphens – from “fig-leaf,” “leap-frog,” “pigeon-hole” and “pot-belly,” just to begin to read the list of the fallen. And now one of the last remaining hyphens with a job in the industry falls. It will have to be a lot less choosy about future projects, and may find itself reduced to filling in impossible phrases like “Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution.”

First the guardians of the language, the hyphen thinks, and now – Jay. (That wasn’t a hyphen; it was a dash.) It’s a real let-down.

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