7/17/2008

It's time to profit from Mr. Rewrite's experience

An article tells Mr. Rewrite that a charitable trust is giving a pile of money to non-profit organizations. Here's hoping one of those organizations teaches journalists how to handle prefixes and hyphenation.

After featuring panties and Brangelina in his last two posts, Mr. Rewrite feels compelled to deal with a not-so-sexy subject, even at the expense of hits and his subscriber count. This might be a good time for less-motivated readers to head to TMZ.com.

First, let's note for the record that it's nonprofit, not non-profit. No hyphen. No, no, no. End of story.

There's no debate in Mr. Rewrite's reference books. Even the very forgiving Dictionary.com and the not-as-forgiving Merriam-Webster OnLine demand nonprofit. Bryan A. Garner (cue angelic chorus) says non-profit "is always ill-advised."

For those paid to know better, here's the most important thing to keep in mind: The Associated Press Stylebook requires nonprofit. That's why Mr. Rewrite is especially concerned that news organizations, most of which are bound by AP style, refer erroneously to non-profit/non-profits rather than nonprofit/nonprofits about a third of the time.

If you can live with blindly following usage guides -- that's Mr. Rewrite's policy -- this is a good time to head to TMZ.com. For those who can't, here's an attempt to explain the logic behind nonprofit sans hyphen ...

AP's entry on the prefix non- says you generally don't use a hyphen when forming a compound that can be understood if the word not could be used before the base word. You would use a hyphen before proper nouns and awkward combinations such as non-nuclear, neither of which is the case with nonprofit. AP's entry on prefixes says you generally don't hyphenate when combining a prefix with a word starting with a consonant.

Mr. Rewrite's ever-so-expensive Chicago Manual of Style says compounds formed with prefixes normally don't have hyphens. In the case of non-, it offers nonviolent and nonevent as examples.

After all this, gentle reader, Mr. Rewrite hopes you see that nonprofit is nonnegotiable.


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