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An author has this sentence:

Kids should not be forced to show physical affection through hugs, kisses, roughhousing, lap sitting, or handholding.

I checked the dictionary* to see if handholding needed a hyphen, and saw that the definition in the dictionary related to the metaphorical use of the term to mean "solicitous attention, support, or instruction (as in servicing clients)."

Is there not a way to use the -ing form of the word to mean the literal act of holding hands? Do I need to change the sentence to holding hands to avoid confusion?

Kids should not be forced to show physical affection through hugs, kisses, roughhousing, lap sitting, or holding hands.


*Updated in response to comments: I actually checked two online dictionaries: Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary and Merriam-Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, which includes Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Both gave only the definition I quoted above.

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    I would use holding hands. Especially in AE, hand-holding is too specifically assisting/supervising
    – mgb
    Aug 9 '14 at 17:33
  • 'checked the dictionary': if you're going to call any dictionary the dictionary, it should probably be the OED. I suspect it would give the literal sense. It's interesting that a literal usage should be being queried when the metaphorical usage is quite acceptable. Here is an example of the literal usage: Palm-to-Palm — The science of holding hands Travis Trombley ... there’s nothing quite like holding hands ... Handholding is a phenomenon seen daily. It is a means by which two people can show affection for one another and declare to the public ... Humans hold hands for a lot of reasons ... Aug 9 '14 at 17:51
  • @EdwinAshworth: I should have specified the dictionary. I actually checked two online dictionaries: Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary and Merriam-Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, which includes Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Both gave only the definition I quoted above.
    – Lacey
    Aug 9 '14 at 18:04
  • There's no ambiguity with a metaphorical sense because of the context all repeating physical activities. As to style, maybe parallelism with 'lap sitting' maybe with hugs, or change it to hugging, they're all nouns.
    – Mitch
    Aug 9 '14 at 18:20
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I'd choose holding hands. Also, you have a bit of an issue with parallelism. I would put it like this:

Kids should not be forced to show physical affection through hugging, kissing, roughhousing, lap sitting, or holding hands.

'Hugs' and 'kisses' are nouns and the rest are verbs. Keep it parallel, my friend.

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  • Yes! I forgot about that. Good catch.
    – Lacey
    Aug 9 '14 at 18:09
  • It's definitely tricky stuff! Hahah
    – eveline
    Aug 9 '14 at 18:22

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