Today I edited an article that contained the word “after-party.” The writer’s choice to form a noun from the words “after” and “party” by attaching them with a hyphen seemed logical. But I wasn’t sure it was the best choice.
I checked our designated dictionary, “Webster’s New World.” It does not contain the word “afterparty” (or “after-party,” for that matter). But I still wasn’t satisfied. My thinking: Who says that “after,” in this context, is a word? Can’t it be a prefix?
In the online version of Webster’s, I couldn’t figure out how to find the prefix “after-,” so I checked the hard copy of the dictionary. There it was, the “after-,” which Webster’s said was a “combining form,” (meaning you just splice it right on to the front of whatever word you’re pairing it with).
I was pleased with that answer and made the change, even writing a note in the text to explain it to the sectoin editor. An hour later, the section editor came up to my desk. Long before I edited the piece, she had checked the archives of the publication that I work for and seen that house style demonstrates a clear house preference for the hyphenated form: after-party.
Had I worked just a little bit harder, I'd have gotten it right. Had I been lazier, I'd have gotten it right. But my half-baked efforts were just enough to assure I got it wrong.