Hyphens in Complicated Compounds


Just another of my pet peeves: It's about the practice of using a hyphen to connect two words to make a compound adjective.  It's when one of the two components being connected is actually a term of two or more words. ... I say that a hyphen should also be added between the two words in the term, because leaving it out results in inaccuracy. What actually gets said is different from what the writer meant.  Here's some actual examples I've seen in print lately, why they're bad, and how it's better to add the extra hyphen.

1.  "olive tree-shaded back patio"

This phrase, as written, says "a patio that is shaded by trees and is also olive-colored".  The patio surely is not colored olive.  The intent was to say that the patio is shaded by an olive tree.

2.  "greasy spoon-inspired plates"  [I expect you to smile about this one!]

This phrase, as written, says "plates that are inspired by spoons and are also greasy".  I am 100% sure that those plates were not inspired by spoons!  The intent was to say that the meals were inspired by the kind of food at roadside diners.


I agree. Greasy spoon-inspired plates needs another hyphen.

For "The Best Punctuation Book, Period" I specifically researched this stuff. I found that pretty much none of the major authorities addresses this issue at all. They just sort of leave people to guess. That's why I'm curious if you've ever seen documented rules to the contrary.

As for all-day/all-night diner, I asked four working copy editors to choose between "30-day-dry-aged beef" and "30-day dry-aged beef." They split 50-50. When the scope of the modifier is uncertain, I think it should be decided by the writer or editor's intent and desired emphasis.

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