Spare the Hyphen and Spoil the Phrase
It’s been a long time since The Grammar Grouch has groaned and moaned, and he’s getting testy. Time for him to purge those damned, damned-up, obsessive-compulsive feelings. Why they call to mind the 1975 song by that name crooned by Brazilian singer Morris Albert, I have no idea. Feelings is a melancholy melody with sappy, dippy lyrics about forgetting that I’d like to forget, but they compulsively – ah, that’s the connection – stick in my head.
But I digress. Today’s lesson on the mechanics of writing, which I know something about as a former magazine
There I go digressing again. It’s a compulsive thing. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, the hyphen-stingy phrase. I refer to a phrase of three or four words that is used as an adjective, with a missing hyphen that leaves the first word sitting there all alone, feeling (there’s that diabolical word again) rejected. Examples are in order, this one from Steve McDonald’s Oxford Bond Advantage newsletter of July 4: The only explanation I see for the movement is a spillover from the trade fear-driven ups and downs in the stock market.
Fear and driven are appropriately connected by a hyphen. But what about trade? Why no hyphen connecting it with the other two words? It’s part of the phrase describing ups and downs. Without the hyphen, trade could be a separate adjective modifying ups and downs. But what McDonald (or his copywriter) likely meant was that those variations in the stock market were trade-fear-driven.
While we’re beating up on investment newsletters, here’s one from Michael Robinson’s Nova-X Report. He’s putting some green in my wallet with grass stock recommendations, so I have to be careful not to offend him. Keep this a secret:
It’s taken years of trials and experiments, but yesterday (I don’t know when this was), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made history by approving the first cannabis plant-derived drug …
To say that the FDA approved a cannabis drug, which could be deduced from this sentence, is incomplete. Robinson wants you to know that this is a cannabis-plant-derived drug; i.e., a drug derived from the cannabis plant. A hyphen connecting cannabis with plant makes it clearer.
I seem to be obsessed with investment newsletters; i.e., I appear obsessively compulsive about them. Oh well, here’s another one, from some outfit I didn’t note:
So I’ve set up an elite initiative for individuals who are looking for opportunities to achieve venture capital-like returns from their investments.
The writer doubtless did not intend to say venture returns could be derived from investments. He meant venture-capital returns could be derived, with the qualification that they would be like venture capital returns: venture-capital-like. A little hedging there – which, after all, is what these guys do all the time in their discussion of hedge funds.
Changing the subject from investing to climatizing (I may have just invented a word), the Palm Beach Post held a while back that a new satellite monitor, the JPSS-1, would cut lawn mower-like swaths around the globe just 500 miles from its surface.
Unless the device is programmed to swoop down upon Earth to engage in a landscaping function, it’s not going to cut lawn swaths. It’s going to cut swaths that can be likened to those made by a lawn mower – lawn-mower-like.
Still on the subject of climate, the Post came up with this headline for an ad from whenever: Get everything under the sun with solar panel-equipped homes. To describe these as solar homes is to confuse. They are homes equipped with solar panels, which is unclear as written. That missing, tiny horizontal line connecting solar with panel-equipped would render clarity: solar-panel-equipped homes.
Moving on to a news event concerning religion, an Associated Press story indicated that an assault by two gunmen on an image of the Prophet Muhammad in a Texas cartoon contest could have been a lone wolf-style strike …
I doubt that the writer meant the attack was like that of a wolf. Instead, hesh (my gender-neutral pronoun) intended to convey that the assault was in the metaphorical style of a lone wolf – a lone-wolf-style strike.
Here’s an example from an AP story on links between viruses and Alzheimer’s disease: Tanzi showed biologically how both HHV6 and a cold sore-causing herpes virus can trigger …
One could assume that the culprit here was a cold herpes virus – whatever that would be – caused by a sore. Surely the writer meant to put the blame for the virus on a cold sore: a cold-sore-causing herpes virus.
On rare occasion, an unhyphenated phrase pops up, as in this example from an online authors’ forum: Why would you ruin a great manuscript by not hiring professionals to edit, format and design the covers for coffee table ready publishing? While an absence of hyphens here may be more clear than if only one were used – coffee table-ready publishing – the phraseology easiest to understand would be coffee-table-ready publishing.
The point is: Hyphenation can produce clarity, and if you’re going to hyphenate, don’t be stingy.