It's a big difference to embrace being childfree as opposed to childless. The terminology draws strong feelings for those who sling these words around with some aplomb. I just finished a book which I simply cannot recommend, unless you are planning to enter academia and focus on gender issues and the status of women. The issue of ‘what do women without children call themselves?’ is raised. This particular author decides that “not-mother” is the most accurate term – er, interestingly.
The reading is dry, and heavily footnoted, if enlightening. Curious to me is the discussion about the term “child-free”. Gentle Reader, you may have noticed that I prefer to squish this word all together. That’s on purpose. But, back to the book for a moment, which is called Unwomanly Conduct: The Challenges of Intentional Childlessness, by Carolyn M. Morell (1994). For Morell, the term child-free presumes a negative attitude towards children. She compares it to “caffeine-free” or “smoke-free” environments – as in wanting to be rid of something bad. The word free can have other connotations, of course.
Which brings me to another book by journalist and humorist Lynne Truss called Eats, Shoots & Leaves: the Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation (2003). Much more fun to read. Based on what I learned about the fascinating hyphen, I propose that we leave it out in the name of social change, for the following reasons:
- It is not necessary to avoid an “inelegant word collision, e.g.: “de-ice” and “shell-like”. Childfree squishes together quite well, thank you.
- Childfree is a relatively new word and therefore not categorized as “traditionally required” as in the case of words such as un-American and anti-fill-in-the-blank.
- Fowler’s Modern English Usage (1930) says … “wherever reasonable” the hyphen should be omitted.
- Oxford Dictionary of English (2003) suggests the hyphen is trending the way of the do-do bird.
- House style be damned!
Or, we could simply be Purple.
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