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In a work of fiction I'm writing, I'm using the colloquial phrase five-one to refer to someone's height. Should that be hyphenated as five-one, or should it just be written woth a space separating the two parts, so as five one?

  • Please provide the context for your quotation. Also, have you considered the audience for your work? Many non-American readers may not understand that *five-one" means "five feet & one inch"; British readers might, but even in Britain a person's height is now given in metres. – TrevorD Aug 16 '13 at 14:13
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    @TrevorD It's a work of fiction. Figuring these things out is left as an exercise for the reader. – Gnawme Aug 16 '13 at 19:41
  • @Gnawme I knew it was a work of fiction: that doesn't mean that you don't want the readers to understand what you are writing about! I was merely pointing it out in case the author was unaware (as some are) that American terminology and measures are not universally understood. It was only the omission of the unit "feet" that I was really commenting on. In the absence of that, someone might wonder how why someone is five metres tall, or what on earth the author means. – TrevorD Aug 16 '13 at 20:15
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    @TrevorD: Are you really proposing the existence of native English speakers with no knowledge of the Imperial system? The largest English speaking economy in the world still operates exclusively on the Imperial system of measure, and I believe assumption of familiarity with that is reasonable. – Pieter Geerkens Aug 16 '13 at 20:34
  • Saying that someone's height is "five one" is hardly colloquial: it's completely standard. – tchrist Aug 17 '13 at 1:18
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The Chicago Manual of Style says

Hyphenated before a noun, open otherwise: a five-foot-ten quarterback, but five feet ten [inches tall]

In a different section, CMoS gives this example:

She is five feet nine (or, more colloquially, five foot nine or five nine).

So, following these rules in a colloquial vein:

She was a five-two ball of fire.

  • Thanks, Gnawme. That's what I was thinking, but it's good to know I'm in line with Chicago. It is clear from the context that she's a) short and b) talking about her height. – Jenny Aug 16 '13 at 23:12
  • Yeah, it's certainly not James Joyce. – Gnawme Aug 17 '13 at 5:08

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