The unidentified award


I have in front of me a small bag of a trail mix type of concoction. On the bag it proudly proclaims, "Award Winning Snack". First of all, there's a missing hyphen. (It should be "Award-Winning Snack" since "Award-Winning" is a phrasal adjective. The snack won an award. The award isn't winning a snack.)

But what award is it? There is no mention of it on the bag or on the company's web site, so I called them. (Update: I checked again a few weeks later and now it says so.) The product won the 2006 Automatic Merchandiser Reader's Choice Product of the Year for Salted Snack of the Year. Automatic Merchandiser is the magazine of the vending industry, and you can check out the complete list of winners. It's not clear to me what the criteria are. Are people in the industry voting for the snack they personally like best? The one they most admire? The one they would most like to stock? I don't know.

Comments (39)
  1. Super Man says:

    The snack mix that would’ve won my award was Super Snax – the Hot & Spicy variety.  Ahhh, this was the best snack mix I’ve had in my 42 years.

    Apparently too few others agreed with me, because Super Snax are no longer being made.

  2. Nathan says:

    I always wondered if such language was advertising trade copy — stuff that anyone can put on their packaging with out an actual ‘award’ to back it up.

    Given how places like JD Powers and Consumer Digest (not Consumer Reports, but they play off the name recognition of Consumer Reports and ‘sell’ award ratings) give away ratings/5-star awards or ‘best buys’ under dubious circumstances, I figured anyone can put award-winner on packaging, and if pressed for a claim, could pull out some kind of award.

    Anyway, Ray, should we worry about your blood pressure from eating salty snacks and dealing with nit pickers and trolls here ?

  3. Erik says:

    Doing some nitpicking of your own, Raymond?

    Phrasal adjective?  Are you kidding?  I don’t see how adding a hyphen clarifies the meaning.  Yes, the hyphenated phrase may be grammatically correct.  But it’s no more clear than the phrase without the hyphen, so what’s the point?

    I sympathize with you regarding the empty claims often made on product packaging.  Avertising routinely insults our intelligence.  This is but one example.

  4. JP says:

    However, phrasal adjectives drop the hyphen once the phrase is determined as common.  Therefore, you will not see ‘electric field strength’ written as ‘electric-field strength’ in IEEE pubs.

    You can therefore rest assured that the reading population assumes that ‘award’ is modifying ‘winning’ and get back to work.

  5. Thank you, Raymond. I was beginning to think I was the last person left who cared about lack of hyphens in phrasal adjectives, not to mention the apparently forgotten distinction between adjectives and adverbs. Ad copy breaks these rules more than any text I see.

    PMP

  6. Rich says:

    "Are people in the industry voting for the snack they personally like best? The one they most admire? The one they would most like to stock? I don’t know."

    It actually says in the linked article:

    "[…] readers are asked to vote for their best selling, most profitable and most requested products."

  7. Dan McCarty says:

    My sister once said it best: "Well, everyone is ‘award-winning’ if there are enough awards."

  8. Scott says:

    Erik: "I don’t see how adding a hyphen clarifies the meaning."

    Simple.  If you see some "Horse-eating children" versus a "horse eating children", do you call the police or board of health?

  9. Dave says:

    I used to own a company that did software for boats. It was a simple matter to get an award from any trade magazine; all you have to do is purchase advertising. I assume any other industry is the same.

  10. Erik says:

    Scott: Do you call the police or board of health?

    You write a clarifying sentence.  You don’t solve the problem with concise but pedantic grammar.

  11. Tomer Chachamu says:

    Scott: Your example of horse-?eating-?children is irrelevant. The hyphen doesn’t clarify the meaning /in the original statement/, "Award Winning Snack".

  12. Advertising lies because people have two sides.

    There is the rational side, which says "this snack costs too much money; I could equally well eat something cheaper."

    Then there is the emotional side, which says "I /want/ this snack."

    Advertising gives the emotional side material with which to browbeat the rational side into giving in to the purchase.

    R: "It’s expensive"

    E: "But I /want/ it!"

    R: "OK, justify spending the money."

    E: "Umm… look, it’s award-winning!"

    R: "Well, alrighty then… I guess if it won an award, it must be worth the money…"

    Classic "Appeal to Authority" logical fallacy.

  13. Rick C says:

    <i>My sister once said it best: "Well, everyone is ‘award-winning’ if there are enough awards."</i>

    Helen: Everyone’s special, Dash.

    Dash: [muttering] Which is another way of saying no one is.

    <hr>

    <i>Scott: Your example of horse-?eating-?children is irrelevant. The hyphen doesn’t clarify the meaning /in the original statement/, "Award Winning Snack".</i>

    Nonsense.  Award Winning Snack could mean an award is in the process of winning a snack, or other, equally silly, things.  Award-Winning Snack is a snack that won an award.

  14. David Conrad says:

    I see now why hyphens in phrasal adjectives have become so uncommon. Apparently a lot of people have never learned about them in the first place.

  15. Cody says:

    Horse meat’s legal in the US, it just has to be clearly identified as such.  Also, a lot of people think it’s a disgusting idea to eat horse relative to eating cow.

  16. mccoyn says:

    Maybe the missing hyphen was intentional.  As in, people who give a meaningless award got free snacks for awarding the award.

  17. dave says:

    This comment was awarded best in class(*) by a recent poll of oldnewthing reader.

    (*)of similar comments made by me within a 5-second time interval.

  18. CRathjen says:

    Reminds me of the airlines – they all seem to have an ‘award-winning’ magazine on board. I’ve yet to figure out which award(s) – "best among magazines carried aboard our aircraft" perhaps? Best among magazines containing a "duty free crap for sale" section this month?

    These days, direct experience from trusted friends/family/coworkers/etc. seems to count more than *anything* else when it comes to picking a brand, repair shop, and the like. It’ll be interesting to see what (if anything) marketing firms do to regain some credibility.

  19. Merus says:

    I personally am an award-winner. It was the Merus Award for Best Person Ever Who Turned Up To The Award Ceremony.

    I came second, but the winner never showed.

  20. Metanitpicker says:

    Even firster than first of all, there’s a missing hyphen. (It should be "trail-mix type" since "trail-mix" is a phrasal adjective.)

    Metanitpicker’s corner:  Even firster than firster, "firster" isn’t a word.

  21. John says:

    I wonder if anybody has ever made up an award and given it to their product just to cover themselves legally.

    Sticky’s Widget – Award Winning Product*

    *Annual winner of Sticky’s "Best Widget" Award

  22. Mike K says:

    Sorry, but Raymond is right on this one.  Phrasal adjectives get hyphenated until the point that they are one word in common usage (eg "bedroom", not "bed-room").  And for all you nitpickers who are already giving Raymond a hard time, here’s the proof:

    As the Oxford English Dictionary puts it, used in this context, phrasal "[qualifies] the name of a part of speech, and [designates] an idiomatic phrase having the function of that part of speech."  The term applies not just to adjectives (and even then not just adjective-adjective constructs), but to verbs (eg "keep down" or "put through") nouns (eg "hound-dog" or "low-class"), etc.  Basically, when we use two words together to mean one thing, it’s phrasal.

    Why the hyphens in the nouns/adjectives/prepostions/etc and not verbs?  Strunk and White’s "The Elements of Style" states: "When two or more words are combined to form a compound, a hyphen is usually required."  That is to say: "This is the way the rules of grammar work.  Follow them."

    Finally, for all the ever confused, still lost, uber nitpickers out there, here’s what the OED says about "award-winning": (under the definition of "award") "Special Combination award-winning".

  23. John says:

    Scott:  I’m not sure, but I don’t think eating horse meat is illegal (selling it might be)*.  Either way, eating horse meat is not uncommon in many European and Asian countries.  So to answer your question, it depends where the children are.  Also, you didn’t specify what kind of children but I think it’s safe to assume we’re talking about human ones.

    *In the United States.

  24. Dean Harding says:

    I recently bought a new video card (I can’t remember the manufacturer, but it was an el-cheapo one) and the box proudly claimed "winner of over *500* awards"!!

    I thought that was taking it a bit far…

  25. Name required says:

    As a libertarian, I’d like the government to get out of just about everything.  But I want one strict law:  every statement made in advertising must be provable beyond a reasonable doubt.  This general tolerance of outright lying and deceit in advertising is ridiculous.  Of course, in this case they’d probably pass muster.  

    I hope those of you who complained about the hyphen not being needed have learned your lesson.  Especially since Raymond’s post explained very clearly why it was needed.

    The "electric field strength" example is a false analogy.  "Electric" isn’t a noun*.  "Award" is.  

    *In this context, and never properly.

  26. Erik says:

    Mike K: That is to say: "This is the way the rules of grammar work.  Follow them."

    Why?  I don’t see how following the rule benefits the reader.  I do not dispute that Raymond is correct- as correct as one can be about something as malleable as language.  I just see no benefit to the reader.  The rule seems arbitrary to me.

  27. Nathan says:

    My good man, by saying that you negate any possible information you may be able to convey by showing such a lack of rigor. I hope you aren’t a writer or docs person, and I don’t have to read your API specs.

    Regardless, the horse eating/horse-eating example provided an excellent demonstration of the difference. I struggled with Ray’s because of the advertising speak, but the horse example made much more sense.

  28. Dom says:

    Mike K, Strunk and White is an intellectually bankrupt source. I am inclined to disregard any of their advice, having seen their irrational injunction against the passive voice.

    Furthermore, you’ve shown you don’t know what you’re talking about: hyphenation does not have *anything* to do with "the rules of grammar". Nor has it anything to do with syntax and "constructs". Nor will you find a functional definition of "phrasal" enlightening.

    Be honest and face it: hyphenation is an issue of style and usage. Nothing else. Don’t dress it up as something objective.

  29. Ben says:

    I worked for a small company that manufactored a health-related retail product.  We advertised in many trade magazines, mostly because they were cheap.  Many of the magazines offer some type of award.  

    One magazine, told us with a straight face that the hightest bidder on single page advertisement would receive the award.

    Even better, we "won" the award, and then used the award in the same manner: we advertised our product as award winning.

    A creator of a contest/award can create any rules they want on the winner.  So it is not illegal.  

    Perhaps a little misleading though.  

  30. Ralf says:

    I once worked for a tech company that published it’s OWN glossy magazine, for the sole purpose of holding "contests" and awarding its own products the top score.  

    Note that nowhere was there ever published a direct link between the aforementioned tech company and the magazine; but careful readers might notice a similarity in the street addresses.

    Tis all marketing foorah and horse pancakes.

  31. Sohail says:

    Dean, 0.0500 matches the wildcard expression *500*.

    So since you can only win an integer number of awards, and since we truncate in C++, that means they won 0 awards. So they weren’t lying.

  32. Pierre B. says:

    Is English different from French? Everything I know about punctuation I learned from a grammar book. What is the term for the class of rules governing punctuation if it’s not grammar? Somehow, I find it hard to believe it’s merely style. I do seem to remember that English has never had a central authority governing it, unlike French or Spanish.

  33. cmov says:

    I’m convinced, a hyphen can make a difference.

    Man-biting dog.

    Elephant-sniffing powder.

    Cup-holding water.

    Bread eating machine.

    Car driving robot.

    Rhino washing vet.

  34. Nathan says:

    To say S&W has passed the test of time probably doesn’t measure up. To say it’s a well respected and roundly published book might not count as evidence to you, rather opinion, given that link.

    The objection you list (active/passive voice), copious name calling of S&W aside, measures up to "he doesn’t follow his own advice" (tu quoque) and "we disagree with him." I don’t find it convincing.  Should tone down the nasty ad hominem attacks, detracts from credibility.

    So maybe all I’ve got is the appeal to authority. Not being a grammatical whiz or a formal or regular writer, I’ll stick with S&W when I need to polish something.

  35. Mr. Potter says:

    "If you see some "Horse-eating children" versus a "horse eating children", do you call the police or board of health?"

    Or if you say it out loud, it *could* mean Heidi Fleiss now works as an usher at the local grade school.

    Though admittedly I don’t know where the hyphen goes.

  36. Dom says:

    Nathan, I’ve given a *reason* why The Elements of Style is not a prescriptive basis for good writing. Now, to say that you refute my argument you have to also give a reason. That’s the way it works see – you can’t simply wave your hands and say I "showing such a lack of rigor".

    If you’d like to do some further reading, I’d highly recommend Language Log. It’s the blog of Pullum, Zwicky and other semi-famous professional linguists – semi-famous because there’s only one truly famous living linguist, really. You might start here:

    http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/%7Emyl/languagelog/archives/003366.html

    I don’t object to hyphenation. I don’t object to discussions of hyphenation. I do object, however, when people call punctuation "grammar" and try to give their personal style some sort of puffed-up objective correctness that it doesn’t have.

  37. Anonymous says:

    If that’s all S&W says about hyphens, I agree it’s inadequate.  But as I understand it, it’s about one just one set of stylisations, and is probably the first introduction many people get to style.  Nobody sensible would say that using the passive voice is wrong, but realising either voice can affect clarity is important.  (The problem, as with many things, is in reading it as gospel.)

    OTOH, there are standardised ways to punctuate.  For those still debating: it’s all at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyphen

  38. Mikkin says:

    Raymond’s hyphen nitpick is a valid point in some situations, but it is moot for the case in point since the statement was puffery. Intended meaninglessness is not improved by disambiguation.

  39. Wow… I can’t believe there’s this much passion about *not* using hyphens. It’s a little like initializing automatic variables. Programmers wail, kick, and scream about how it’s not necessary because they’re setting a value further down in the code, and such-and-such a book says it’s not necessary, and why are you forcing your coding style on me anyway?

    Then one day, the app crashes. It would have been so much easier to follow the rule.

    Seriously, a hyphen in the right place makes the meaning of clearer. I can’t believe this is a problem.

    PMP

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