Henry Fuhrmann, former editor of the Los Angeles Times famous for fighting for grammatical equity, died on Wednesday. He was 65.
Described by others as the “hyphen killer” and himself as a “word nerd,” Fuhrmann led the charge to eliminate the usage of hyphens in ethnic titles like “Asian-American” and “African-American.” While overlooked by many, Fuhrmann found the construction to be derogatory and divisive.
“Those hyphens,” he wrote in a 2019 essay, “serve to divide even as they are meant to connect. Their use in racial and ethnic identities can connote an otherness, a sense that people of color are somehow not full citizens or fully American.”
Other social justice-minded linguistic shifts that Fuhrman has championed throughout his career include a change from the use of the term “transvestite” to “transgender” when describing individuals whose gender identity is different from the one they were assigned at birth, as well as the usage of “internment,” a term that he argues downplays the U.S. government’s actions against Japanese Americans during World War II.
In the editing room, Fuhrmann was well-respected for displaying compassion and accountability in such a fast-paced and high-stakes environment, from managing and supporting the work of over 80 copywriters to taking responsibility for a particularly asinine typographical gaffe.
“In an environment where everyone is crusty, on deadline, hair on fire, Henry always found a way to always be reasonable, articulate and kind,” copy desk supervisor Ruthanne Solido told the Los Angeles Times. “He was well aware that speed matters more than ever… but he was also well aware that you have to get it right, and often that takes a couple of beats.”