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5 Comments

  • Love the discussion on hyphens. I used to work for attorneys who collected delinquent property taxes. Were they Delinquent Tax-Attorneys? Or Delinquent-tax Attorneys? Problem is, they never used any hyphens, so it was anybody’s guess.

  • Thank you so much for this discussion. As a managing editor for a regional magazine (in the States), I’m often wrestling with this issue. The only concession I’ve made to our style is to use the en dash (a la CMS) when necessary with capitalized phrases, but stick to hyphens for clarity wherever needed.

  • I’m wondering what should be done when using two phrases separated by a slash to show opposition. “Red/blue contrast” seems fine, and so does “the red state governors”. But which seems better to you: “red-state/blue-state competition for federal funding” with hyphens, or “red state / blue state competition for federal funding” with spacing around the slash?

  • Thomas: Nice example. The hyphenless delinquent tax attorneys is amusingly ambiguous and therefore open to misinterpretation, even if largely ironic or jocular. I would definitely use delinquent-tax attorneys here (and no capitals).

    Virginia: You’re very welcome, and your approach sounds sensible to me. The use of en dashes in such contexts is more common in the US than on this side of the Atlantic (and as you suggest is particularly suited to capitalised phrases), but multiple hyphenation as a technique is often overlooked for no good reason.

    John: Normally I disprefer spaces around a slash, but in your example I favour the open style because it looks less cramped and overworked: it’s simply more legible. But I wouldn’t object to red-state/blue-state competition, which is correct too and by no means unclear.