An anti-Vietnam war party

An updated version of a comment originally published in 2011

Does an anti-Vietnam war party (The Guardian, 1 March 2020) refer to a political party devoted to war and opposed to the Vietnamese state, or perhaps a militant expedition attacking Vietnam? It might seem so to anyone unfamiliar with the anti-war movement of the 1960s and 70s.

Although The Guardian has followed the traditional form of punctuation, an anti-Vietnam-war party avoids misdirecting the readers. And it reflects the normal rhythms of speech routinely but unconsciously used by speakers and listeners to resolve the ambiguities of written text.

Are not accuracy and clarity more important than unquestioned obedience to an arbitrary, trivial convention? And should they not over-ride the fear of even so slight a novelty. But if double hyphenation seems over-punctuated to those unused to seeing it, an anti Vietnam-war party would be a compromise improvement.

Fowler acknowledges the validity of multiple hyphens (and the occasional need to use them to avoid this problem) but he prefers side-stepping the problem if the sentence can be more elegantly re-phrased using prepositions. So he might have preferred a party opposed to the Vietnam war.


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