English – PEG-CHAT [High Net Worth Individuals]


Word cloud for High-net-worth individual - Abstract word...

At the beginning of the year I joined PEG – The Professional Editors’ Group – and what I didn’t realise at the time was that I would be added to their ’round robin’ PEG-CHAT email notifications/discussions.

The other day a query arose regarding the hyphenation or not of [high net worth individuals]. Indeed, the reason why I’ve put the phrase in square brackets is to avoid imposing my own view.

While everyone who contributed to the hyphenation debate did so with the very best of intentions, I was alarmed that the predominant references cited were online sources, with some responses stating comments along the line of … in the banking sector the phrase used is ‘ … individuals of high net worth …’ I have no reason to doubt this statement but it seems rather contrived to me and certainly the phrase most of us (?) are familiar with is [high net worth individuals].

So, how does one cut this grammatical Gordian Knot?

By going back to basics.

By which I mean good old fashioned reference books that – in spite of the digital age we live in – are still regarded as definitive texts. Arbiters that have stood the test of time.

The usefulness of Google, Wikipedia and the like are without dispute, but they are not the Oxford English Dictionary, Hart’s Rules, Butcher’s Copy Editing or Fowler’s Modern English Usage.

Like money, the internet is a good servant but a bad master. Let’s use the web to locate the definitive source rather than as the definitive source.

While the jury may be out as to where (if at all) to place the hyphens in [high net worth individuals] there can be no arguing with Butcher’s Copy Editing when it states that hyphens should be introduced ‘ … only to avoid ambiguity’.

But the real issue, overlooked by all it seems, who contributed to the PEG discussion, is not the hyphenation of the phrase, but the phrase itself, because, for hundreds of years English has possessed an excellent word to describe the verbose term [high net worth individuals].

And that word is rich.