The hyphenated world of a Lord-Scribe-On-High
To the uninitiated, the term “poly-hyphenate” sounds like an alternative lifestyle choice or a James Bond villainess. For many in our current job market, it’s how we describe our careers. I’m a “this-that-and-the-other,” is not uncommon to hear when people discuss their lines of work. The more the economic recovery drags on and we pastiche a living from a potpourri of jobs and positions, the more hyphens we can expect to acquire.
This style of descriptor probably first bubbled up in Hollywood, where everyone is something by way of something else. Writer-directors are not uncommon, ditto actor-waiters, or as likely, actor-baristas, writer-baristas and the occasional marketplace fluke, the barista-barista who naturally specializes in doubles.
Hyphenated job titles are a new kind of binomial nomenclature, those two-fer Latin names biologists use to describe flora and fauna by genus and species. For instance, we’re all Homo sapiens (though I sometimes have my doubts about J.M. Berry) and some of us even have jobs.
I currently fancy myself a writer-producer, which means I produce writing, I suppose. Since I’m just as likely to hire a writer as I am to write something myself, when it comes to non-bylined creative content for clients, I felt a need to designate who’s boss. Scribe-Lord-On-High sort of overstated the matter, so I downshifted to the hyphenated title. Though sometimes I fear it looks like some kind of careerist math problem, as if the hyphen is a minus sign and I’m subtracting one position at the cost of the other. Thus “writer - producer = ?”
Would that be ... A nonproductive writer? Or is that “nonproductive-writer?”
Either way, too many hyphens on one’s curricula vitae and it reads like Morse code. If you’re wondering, “— · · · · —” is what a hyphen looks like via telegraph. To me, it looks like ASCii art for an imaginary bridge (yes, Dr. Rorschach would have loved me).
In real life, regardless of one’s gig, we’re all poly-hyphenates. One’s professional appellatives describe only a dimension or two of one’s identity. There are also one’s family roles, social functions, personal pursuits of all stripes, criminal proclivities, phobias, etc., all of which, if strung together with hyphens, would probably be as long as our personal genomes. Inasmuch as I’d like to simplify my life, I only foresee the acquisition of more hyphens on the horizon, looming like some vast monolith a la “2001: A Space Odyssey” but, you know, on its side.
This won’t win anyone points in Scrabble (hyphens are verboten) but it does seem to be the way of the world at present. I advise sorting your poly-hyphenate life out as one would one’s will, since your job title is among the first stop we hacks make when penning your obituary (I, of course, have drafted my own since I don’t trust any of you to get it right). Sure, you might be the “beloved wife, mother, daughter, sister,” etc., but everyone else knows you as that sustainable-social-media-marketing-barista-barista.
It could be worse. I sometimes wonder about those who have hyphenated or “double-barreled” names as they’re sometimes called. The etymological root of the term, I assume, can be traced back to some long ago shotgun wedding. Among the more famous of the double-barreled is aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont, who preferred to use an equal sign in lieu of a hyphen in his conjoined surname. He also piloted a small dirigible to the cafes of fin de siècle Paris, so we might disregard his glyphic affectation as equally full of hot air.
Perhaps we should dash our dreams of a day when our professional pursuits knit together into a single, unified whole lest we become pollyannaish about our poly-hyphenates – but even then, is it too hard to imagine that Pollyanna might once have been Polly-Anna?
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