To the uninitiated, the term “poly-hyphenate” could sound like an alternative lifestyle or a James Bond villainess. For many, it’s how we describe our careers. I’m a “this-that-and-the-other,” is not uncommon to hear when people discuss their lines of work.

Many creative people pastiche a living from a potpourri of jobs and positions. Consider Hollywood, where everyone is something by way of something else. Writer-Directors are not uncommon, ditto actor-waiters, or as likely, actor-baristas, writer-baristas. And then there’s the occasional marketplace fluke, the barista-barista who naturally specializes in doubles.

Hyphenated job titles are a new kind of binomial nomenclature. Like the two-for-one Latin names used by biologists to describe flora and fauna by genus and species, we’re all Homo sapiens and some of us even have jobs.

The poly-hyphenate next door

I currently fancy myself a writer-director-coach-consultant. This means I direct writing — my own and others’ — and perhaps with a whistle depending how literally the client reads “coach.”

Polyhyphenate job titles sometimes look like some kind of careerist math problem as if the hyphen is a minus sign. It’s like subtracting one position at the cost of the other. Thus “writer – director =” Would that be… A writer without direction? (I can help you with that — click here.)

Too many hyphens on one’s curricula vitae and it reads like Morse code. If you’re wondering, -….- is what a hyphen looks like to a telegraph. It’s a zombie face done in ASCII art.

When you think about it, we’re all poly-hyphenates. One’s professional appellatives only describe a dimension or two of one’s identity. There are also one’s family roles, social functions, personal pursuits of all stripes, criminal proclivities, phobias, etc. If they were all strung together with hyphens, they would probably be as long as our personal genomes. And I only see more on the horizon, looming like some vast monolith a la 2001: A Space Odyssey but on its side.

Poly-hyphenate job titles won’t win anyone points in Scrabble (hyphens are verboten) but they will make your obituary more fun to read. Sure, you might be the “beloved wife, mother, daughter, sister,” etc., but everyone else knows you as that sustainable-social-media-marketing-barista-barista.

‘Shotgun’ is not hyphenated btw.

It could be worse. I sometimes wonder about those who have hyphenated or “double-barreled” names as they’re sometimes called. The etymological root of the term, I assume, can be traced back to someone’s shotgun wedding.

Among the more famous of the double-barreled is aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont, who preferred to use an equal sign in lieu of a hyphen in his conjoined surname. No one honors that now — he piloted a small dirigible to the cafes of fin de siècle Paris, so we might disregard his glyphic affectation as full of hot air.

Is it too pollyannaish to hope that our poly-hyphenate jobs will someday knit into a single title? Probably. But dreams do come true. I mean, is it too hard to imagine that Pollyanna might once have been Polly-Anna?

poly-hyphenate
Hayley Mills as the non-hyphenated title character.

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