For most of my life 'till about a couple of years ago, I had only seen the spelling orangutan written to describe those delightful red-headed apes from the tropical forests of Borneo. Lately, though, I've increasingly been seeing a strange spelling in certain scientific publications I read: orang-utan, with a hyphen. Is there a particular reason why this hyphen was added? It's strange, because usually in English, words evolve to have their hyphens and diacriticals omitted, not added.
- Anybody can ask a question
- Anybody can answer
- The best answers are voted up and rise to the top
Perhaps this phenomenon should have a name, maybe "hyphen decay". A noun phrase becomes so current that starts being treated as a single word and is granted a hyphen in recognition of its new status. If the word becomes popular enough, even the hyphen is dropped and the words fuse.
"Bell boy" becomes "bell-boy", then "bellboy". Ditto for hundreds of other words from "type writer" to "lap top".