Rogue Words From A to Z: X-Ray Vision Won’t Help You Now

A to Z Letter XX-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.

Crookes X-ray tube

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…


Β© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

28 thoughts on “Rogue Words From A to Z: X-Ray Vision Won’t Help You Now

  1. Worthy learning today! I always was confused with the spelling of β€œX-ray”. Fruitful imagination! You could have made Fashion Nightmare’s pink-and-yellow striped suit a pink-and-xanthous one. (xanthous: colour between yellow, green, and orange)
    Does all colours which are put together to describe an object, always needs to be hyphenated? ie: A black-and-white ceramic pot?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Xanthous! Now that’s a new word to me, thank you. I knew I could count on you as an artist. πŸ™‚

      In answer to your hyphen question, it depends. Hyphens are used to avoid confusion between words. Because I also had the word “striped” in there, I needed to make it clear that the suit had pink and yellow stripes as opposed to a pink suit with yellow stripes. Normally I would put hyphens in your black and white example, too, simply to distinguish it from the noun. (It’s not a white ceramic pot.)

      I think I’ll write a post about hyphens. πŸ™‚


    1. No problem! And I wouldn’t worry too much. Although capitalizing it is the most common rule, x-ray with a lower case is widely accepted by readers. T-shirt, though, is usually a capital. πŸ™‚


    1. Yes, we’re used to thinking of X-ray as a noun. And most of the time it is. So I’d rather not think about which way to spell it based on where it is in the sentence. πŸ™‚


  2. hyphens are my kryptonite – I never know what to hyphen and seem to always get it wrong.

    A very appropriate post by the way since I went to see the new Avengers yesterday! Have you seen it? I thought it was great πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alas, the Avengers movie won’t be out until this weekend here. In the meantime I’m trying really hard to escape spoilers. Glad to hear you enjoyed it!

      When I learned copy editing, we spent a lot of time on hyphens because they are so confusing. I’m definitely thinking they are a good topic for the future!


  3. I loved this parody of superhero sagas. Smart and vivid and fun. Not to mention informative and super A-ok. AOK. A-okay. Hmmmmm…… πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ (I think I know Fashion Nightmare, there are a few of them who live in my county, which one were you referring to? LOL)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh nooooo…. I’m doomed. I’ve always written t-shirt and x-ray… Guess I have to change another habit. πŸ˜› Funny story!

    Liked by 1 person

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