It's almost too easy to beat up on Slate.com these days. The whole site has devolved into a garbage can of reactionary, simple minded, and flat wrong typists who are making dear Truman turn in his fabulous grave. One of the latest wastes of pixels is this review of the movie Grown Ups which hinges almost its entire critique on a hyphen (no shit, that's about the entire review):
Grown Ups. Just to be clear: That's Grown, space, Ups. What this might mean is a problem of Noam Chomsky-esque proportions. What's fairly certain is that at no stage of the movie's well-funded production did anybody think to check the spelling of the title.
The dictionary that Copy-Editing the Culture happens to be wedded to (not always happily) is Webster's New World College Dictionary: Fourth Edition. It's called "college" because it is intended for, as it were, grown-ups—or, as Webster's also allows, grownups. Never has Copy-Editing the Culture met a prescriptive dictionary that supports Sony's version of the word.
That's because the noun grown ups makes no sense. To grow up—or to push down, to walk toward, to jump up—is a straightforward verb intensified with a preposition. Grown-up is a single noun compounded from those pieces. But what's a grown up? Grammatically, this uncompounded object makes sense only if one is describing an "up" that has grown. And what's an "up"? Does it eat? Need it be socialized?
Way to name drop Chomsky, btw. As one of the rare people who've actually read the The Minimalist Program* I'm pretty sure Chomsky would not be impressed with this reference. The author, Nathan Heller, seems to think that the placement of hyphens are the height of grammatical analysis. As a former college writing instructor, I can tell you that citing a dictionary definition is the clear sign of an author who has ZERO idea what the hell she/he is talking about. Good authors structure their own arguments, they don't cite dictionaries as their authorities. Following up the dictionary reference with the incoherent claim that the preposition up some-how** intensifies the verb grown exposes Nathan's complete lack of credibility on all matters of linguistics. Even the most simple-minded*** grade school teacher would be wary of claiming the preposition up magically intensifies the verb grown in the title Gown Ups. It is an incoherent claim on all levels. It makes no sense.
* Believe me folks, I ain't proud of this. I just happened to be trained at a functionalist grad school which believed in know thy enemy pedagogy, and hence a summer reading group was born.
**Nate, whattaya think about my use of "some-how"? Hmmm? Weird hyphen, huh? Is it "uncompounded"?
***Oh shit, Nate, did you see that? I used another hyphen! Hyphens and Chomsky and Intensifiers, Oh My!