Does Anal-Retentive Have a Hyphen?

OK. I know the answer to the title question. It mostly depends on the editorial style guide you use. But, if the words are used as a compound adjective before a noun, most editors will agree they should be hyphenated. If they’re used as a predicate noun, the hyphen apparently isn’t required. I prefer the hyphen.

I suppose you’d have to actually be anal retentive (or anal-retentive) to even care.

I Care.
I tend to straighten bar stools and chairs in restaurants as I walk by. It takes all my self control (self-control? … whatever) to not do so. When I worked for a gym in Santa Barbara, I would unconsciously straighten the café stools every time I walked through the lobby. After several months, I learned that other staff would mess them up when they saw me coming just to watch me align them again. One day, I caught them all grinning wickedly as I ‘fixed’ the stools.


When I have my morning coffee downstairs at El Sanedrín, I like the cup and saucer to match. The restaurant has Candelas* (the coffee company) cups and saucers. Some display the company logo in brown and white with an orange band, and others are in brown and white only. (In case you’re wondering, I prefer the design without the orange.) The staff all know what I’m like; it’s a running joke. The cup and saucer should match, and they should be aligned. I don’t complain. My anal-retentiveness (hyphen or no) is my own issue and I do my best to not get carried away. However, if the cup and saucer aren’t aligned when delivered, I align them myself before I start drinking. If they don’t match, I cope. Oddly, if they weren’t intended to match, I wouldn’t care. I love mix-and-match. Go figure.


Vanessa always proudly points out the beautifully aligned and matched cup and saucer as she serves me. She did so again yesterday. So I pulled out my camera and showed her a photo of what she had served the day before. I had aligned the cup and saucer before taking the photo. They didn’t match. Vanessa was stunned. She has been very pleased to be learning a new English word or phrase every day. So, I taught her a very important expression. With perfect diction, she can now say, “I hang my head in shame.”

Can Cats Be Obsessive-Compulsive?
That’s just a nicer way of saying anal-retentive. Dudo is a creature of habit. If something is done once, it’s a routine. Dudo insists on placing his toy mouse in the center of his food dish. He leaves it there for a while and then moves it to his water bowl. If San Geraldo or I remove the mouse, Dudo tracks it down and puts it right back. Moose doesn’t like to eat from the dish or drink from the bowl containing the mouse. (Maybe that’s why Dudo does it. Moose is kind of a big eater and Dudo is slim.) 


When San Geraldo finds the mouse soaking in the water bowl, he wraps it in his own hand towel (!!!) and leaves it on the bathroom counter. Dudo sniffs it out and retrieves it. When I find the mouse soaking in the water bowl, I wash it in the kitchen sink and hang it on the clothesline to dry. (Note: If I find out San Geraldo has used his hand towel to dry the mouse, I throw the towel in the laundry basket and put out a new one.)


*It also really bugs me that the coffee company’s official name is Candelas, but the cups with my preferred logo read Candela (singular)…

Author: Moving with Mitchell

From Brooklyn, New York; to North Massapequa; back to Brooklyn; Brockport, New York; back to Brooklyn... To Boston, Massachusetts, where I met Jerry... To Marina del Rey, California; Washington, DC; New Haven and Guilford, Connecticut; San Diego, San Francisco, Palm Springs, and Santa Barbara, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Irvine, California; Sevilla, Spain. And Fuengirola, Málaga..

39 thoughts on “Does Anal-Retentive Have a Hyphen?”

  1. The hyphen is a creature in serious decline. I like the hyphen. I'm all for bunging hyphens anywhere that they may legally be bunged. The hyphen in question is then considered fully be-bunged.

    p.s. You're fine – lots of people are more loony than you, and they remain functional.


  2. Me too! I have to stop myself from adding hyphens willy-nilly to everything. (Spell-check objects to the hyphen above. Stupid spell-check!) I find myself mentally adding hyphens when I read others writing but then decide it's because they have more self-restraint than I do! (Now, why doesn't spell-check allow an apostrophe in the possessive "others"? It seems like it should be there!)

  3. Reading this blog about your anal retentiveness (is that even a word?) made me chuckle. I've been accused of being anal retentive and borderline OCD.

    And you know what? I'm perfectly fine with that. 🙂

  4. I had to get rid of all rugs in my house that had a fringe, I would spend hours making sure all the fringe went in the same direction…

    I feel your pain 🙂

    1. Monkey:
      We've got no fringe (on the rugs) now. I am a bit more messy around the house lately, but I used to obsess about the fringe on the area rugs. My father and I both used to vacuum them into place! Then I learned I was actually damaging the rug. (So, yes, John Gray, I DID comb them!)

  5. The cat story is high-larious!

    The sick part of the story is that, while reading about your coffee cups, and their "celestial" alignment issues, I wondered why no 's' how stupid it was to leave off the 's' and where's the effing 's' and… I need a nap.
    Once I straighten the chairs and align all the furniture.

    1. Hi Kitty:
      Thanks so much for commenting! I've mentioned above that I work hard to not allow my obsessions to control me. So, no, they don't take up much time. I don't even have to slow my pace while straightening bar stools!

  6. Hi: You'll be shit out of luck when you come to visit us. Jonathan has made sure that all the cups we have for Cuban coffee don't have the matching plate as he has systematically broken them one by one. We are now working with at the very least five sets and if you can find one matching pair you get breakfast in bed…lol


  7. I love hyphens as well! And tend to over-use them!! lol
    I call OCD behaviors being tiding and orderly…..everything has it's place, you know. I think my OCD tendencies come form a very crowded and chaotic upbringing. I can almost relate to the coffee cup and saucer alignment thingy!!

  8. Maybe you make several cups of Candelas, andf when it's only one its a Candela.

    Loved those cups, btw, they're the right size.

  9. I totally get the OCD for the matching plus acceptance for the mix-and-match. It's about keeping things as they are supposed to be. Even the hyphen bit comes down to that. If there's supposed to be a hyphen then I want it there. If there's a grammar rule that says it does not have to be there then I'm fine. I think there's a lot of things in this life that you can't order, or keep as they should be. Exercising some control over the things we can keep ordered makes us feel good, as if we have some charge over something. I like to think it's "Jungian Symbolism for the Soul." If we practice what we need to with the smaller, then the larger doesn't seem so out of reach.

  10. I think it's okay to be anal retentive about your own stuff… but yesterday we were in the Dept of Motor Vehicle office and I found myself straightening the clerks desk knick-knacks and aligning the paperwork so the edges were flush. I'm not real bad on hyphens —- my excess is …… Like, can't I ever finish a sentence? Is my life one long run-on (HA! a hyphen!) thought?

    1. Odd Essay:
      Have you ever seen Colonial Candles? Very popular traditional candles. They're sold with two tiny labels on each taper. I remove them immediately, but I've been in homes where they've left the labels on the candles. It takes all my self-control to not peel them off. And, like you, I have straightened the desks of others!

  11. Ken leaves cabinet doors and drawers open. Not all the way, just ajar. I walk behind him in the kitchen closing them. I think he leaves them open on purpose now, just to watch me close them all.

    And I collect these paper bags. I keep them all neat and folded in this little drawer down here…

    1. Walt the Fourth:
      Oh, The Dowager Duchess folds bags into perfect little squares. They look like they've been ironed! And you have to completely unfold her sheets before you know which is the fitted and which is the flat. I don't know how she does THAT (and maybe it's a good thing I don't).

  12. Maybe the invisible "S" is inside the cup under the coffee line…pretend. I tend to be OCD at work for a variety things and reasons…it brought a sense of alignment and calmness in my mind. Now that I'm blogging all the time this has diminished somewhat…must be relaxed or something. Poor mousey…yucky mousey!

  13. It takes me forever to shop at the grocery store. After 20 years of retail management, I straighten the shelves and front all the merchandise. Sometimes, I'll even put out-of-place items where they belong.
    And yes, my coffee cup better be straight too.

    1. Stew:
      I have been known to straighten shelves in stores. When I catch myself, I stop. But, you've got me beat: I have never put out-of-place items where they belong… well, unless it's nearby!

      It was busy at El Sanedrín today. My second cup and saucer didn't match. But, poor Vanessa, I let her slide this time.

  14. I know EXACTLY what you mean: we hang our mugs on hooks on the sides of the cabinets on both sides of the window above the sink. If the cup has a 360 degree design, it can hang on either side; but if the design is only on one side, the design side should always be visible. And all the cups must face open side forward. When my future mother-in-law visits, she puts the cups on the hooks in all sorts of ways…on purpose, I'm sure. It's anal-retentive vs. passive-aggressive.

    1. Frank:
      I'm of course with you. Those mugs would definitely have their correct placement. But have you ever experienced anal-retentive meets passive-aggressive/anal-retentive? Do I have stories!

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