X-ray is an exasperating word because there is a lot of disagreement over how to spell it. Should it have a hyphen? Should the X be capitalized? Is it X-ray, x-ray, X ray, or x ray? All of these variations have been used.
Some people will tell you that X-ray should be hyphenated when it’s used as an adjective (as in X-ray vision or x-ray vision) and not hyphenated when it’s a noun (as in getting an X ray or an x ray). Sounds complicated. No wonder people are confused!
My advice to you is to follow the generally accepted style rule for words that have a letter as a prefix: Capitalize the letter and hyphenate the word (X-ray). You can’t go wrong with this, because it’s consistent with other words in this category (T-shirt). It’s also described as the most common style in Garner’s Modern American Usage.
And now…as I’m sure you have come to expect, I have written you a story to help illustrate this rule. And since we’ve been talking about X-ray vision…
Extra-Special Man was doing his usual flyby over the city when his extra-sensitive hearing caught the sound of maniacal laughter somewhere behind him.
That sounds like someone who is about to execute an evil plan, he thought, and did a U-turn in the air. As he neared the extra-large building that was the source of the sound, he used his X-ray vision to examine the top floor.
He spotted a large shape that was radiating the energy of an A-bomb. Alarmed, he crashed through the nearest window, only to be blinded by the sight of a man with an electric blue mustache wearing a neon pink-and-yellow striped suit and a lime green top hat.
“I should have known it was you, Fashion Nightmare,” said Extra-Special Man. “What exasperating action are you up to this time?”
“Ah, Extra-Special Man! I am happy that an A-list superhero has come to witness my exciting triumph. I have finally completed my V-gun, and it is time to unleash it on this city.”
“A V-gun?” asked Extra-Special Man. “What does it do, exactly?”
“I’m glad you asked. After I press this extra-small button, the entire city will be wearing one of these!” He brandished a scratchy woolen V-neck sweater with a garish picture of a purple moose on it. “It’s my own exclusive design,” he said proudly.
“You can’t force the people of this city to wear that ugly sweater. That would be un-American.”
“This coming from someone who wears tights? And why do you care?” asked Fashion Nightmare. “After all, you’re an alien from Xenon.”
“Well, that was rather xenophobic of you,” said Extra-Special Man, miffed.
“Besides, you’re too late,” said Fashion Nightmare, and pressed the extra-small button.
The V-gun sputtered and exploded, enveloping Fashion Nightmare in a haze of yellow light. When it cleared, Fashion Nightmare’s clothing looked somewhat different.
“A white T-shirt and blue jeans!” he exclaimed in horror. “How exceedingly banal! I can’t possibly wear this!” He tried to rip the shirt off, but it wouldn’t budge. “Someone get this off of me!” He started whimpering.
“Well, I hope you learned your lesson,” said Extra-Special Man. “Exulting in the extreme exercising of evil deeds only leads to execrable results.” He paused. “And there’s nothing wrong with my tights!”
Image of the Crookes X-ray tube from Wikimedia Commons
This post is dedicated to my copy editing instructor, who taught me how to deal with the complexities of hyphens.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, where I will yell about the yellow-bellied letter Y…
© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015