The ‘Limited-Edition’ War!

Posted on October 15, 2020


By David Ettinger

Grammar Stuff
I’ve written some pretty heavy blogs lately, so I want to toss in this lighter offering which you may enjoy. And you will enjoy it if you’re a “grammar person.”

I work at a Christian ministry in Orlando, Florida, called Zion’s Hope (check out our website here). I am the staff writer, as well as an editor and teacher.

Every year we sell 1, and sometimes 2, Christmas cards which we design ourselves. They are of the highest quality, and always include an evangelical message. (You can find them on our website – why not order bunches of them here?)

In advertising the cards in our brochures, website, magazine, and e-mails, we always refer to them as “Limited Edition” Christmas cards. But a colleague and I insist the phrase should be “Limited-Edition” Christmas cards. The difference, of course, is the hyphen.

The Issue
The reason why my colleague and I fight for the hyphen is that the term “Limited-Edition” when used with a noun (as is “Christmas card”), is a compound modifier. A modifier in grammar is a word which describes a noun. For instance, I have a car. In fact, I have a white car. The word “white” is a modifier, explaining, or describing, something about the car.

Sometimes, however, two words are required to describe a noun. For instance, the worst team in a sports league is often said to “dwell in the cellar.” Therefore, in my old sports-writing days, I would say of my alma-mater’s horrible football team, “the cellar-dwelling New Mexico State University Aggies.”

You see, it took two words to make one thought. They are not the “cellar” Aggies; nor are they the “dwelling” Aggies. Individually, those terms can’t stand alone; it takes a combination of both to create the one thought, and the hyphen is what links them.

Ditto with our “Limited Edition” Christmas cards. They are not “limited” cards; nor are they “edition” cards. They are “Limited-Edition” cards – a compound modifier which REQUIRES a hyphen. Harrumph!

So, why every year – despite this indisputable logic – do the cards get advertised as “Limited Edition” cards WITHOUT the hyphen? The reason is simple: The third editor is the wife of the ministry’s founder, and she wants it this way!

This certainly makes for a blood-boiling, nerve-grinding, logic-twisting, gut-wrenching, nail-biting, hair-pulling, grammar-mutilating set of circumstances.

Bah humbug!