March 29 – The Hyphen War?

Posted on March 29, 2018

Thank goodness, it wasn't really a "war."

But when a country cannot agree on its name, and passes bill after bill after bill changing the name, angering some people, and changing the name again...

Well, that country might be ready to split.

That's just what happened.

In late 1989, Czechoslovak Socialist Republic became a non-communist country after what is called the "Velvet Revolution." Students and other citizens protested, went on strike - and managed to end the one-party Communist rule over their nation! This change happened without battles and wars, so the revolution was called "Velvet."

This is the location in Europe of the land whose name
went through so many different versions in just a few years.

Some folks thought they should call the new, more democratic nation the Czechoslovak Republic. But Slovak politicians insisted that, coming second in the name, and not having a capital letter, the "Slovak" part waaayyy takes second place instead of being on equal footing.

Their solution? A hyphen: the Czecho-Slovak Republic.

Another suggested solution: the Republic of Czecho-Slovakia.

Apparently, Czech politicians didn't like those ideas, because it reminded them of a painful historical period.

How about the Czechoslovak Federative Republic? The name would be spelled without a hyphen in Czech and with a hyphen in Slovak: Československá federativní republika - or Česko-slovenská federatívna republika.

That's the compromise that lawmakers came up with on this date in 1990. Everyone was happy, right?

Well, I guess not...

In less than a month, the name changed AGAIN to the Czech and Slovak Republic!

The two parts of the nation couldn't even agree on whether the requested bit of punctuation was a hyphen or a dash. Like English, the Slovak language has different names for the two different pieces of punctuation - but the Czech language does not.

Thank goodness, after a peaceful transfer of power from the old communist leaders to a more democratic government, the Czechs and the Slovaks didn't actually fight a war over their name - but they DID eventually decide to split into two different nations: the Czech Republic and Slovakia. That decision was also peaceful, and it's called the Velvet Divorce. It became effective on January 1, 1993.

By the way, the Czech Republic is still futzing around with its name. In 2016 Czech lawmakers decided to shorten the long name ("the Czech Republic") to Czechia, although the long form is still in use for official business. From what I can tell, however, the name Czechia hasn't caught on. And the whole purpose of coming up with the short name was to be catchy...

It will be interesting to see if, a decade or so from now, there have been further changes - or if, perhaps, Czechia eventually does catch on...

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