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Please take a look at the following sentence from this article:

Maybe the usage is colloquial, slang, technical, inaccurate, euphemistic, misleading or inappropriate, and the writer wants to distance him- or herself from it, or to suggest irony, scepticism, distaste or outright derision:

I would like to ask you two questions:

  1. What is the purpose of the hanging hyphen right after him?

  2. Why wasn't used himself?

As written, I could read that part as if the writer wanted to distance somebody else from it, not himself.

Please let me know your thoughts on this.

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This hyphen is a suspended hyphen. It isn't mandatory and is mainly used to prevent redundancy. Because it is a matter of style, some people/style guides will recommend against using a suspended hyphen when the original words don't have hyphens (as is the case here).

You can rewrite it to remove the hyphen like this:

Maybe the usage is colloquial, slang, technical, inaccurate, euphemistic, misleading or inappropriate, and the writer wants to distance himself or herself from it, or to suggest irony, scepticism, distaste or outright derision:

  • I appreciate your answer and I should have known that these are just simple guidelines, not hard-and-fast rules. Thanks so much! +1 – Lucian Sava May 15 '17 at 11:05
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The author wanted to indicate that it could have been "himself" or "herself" without repeating the "self" part. It probably would have been clearer to write "himself or herself", though.

It definitely does not indicate that the writer wanted to distance somebody else from it, though. Firstly, there's nobody else mentioned whom him could refer to. Secondly, if the writer did want to distance somebody else, we wouldn't put a dash after him.

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