The case for and against Hyphens

As with most things in life when it comes to hyphens:
De gustibus non est disputandum, goes the saying: “there’s no arguing about taste.” Except that people argue endlessly about taste; a truer phrase is “there’s no way of proving your case in matters of taste.” De gustibus non est probandum.

The Economist weighs in on the correct use, abuse and toss-ups (tossups?) when it comes to hyphens.

You can write “we have zero tolerance for bad punctuation,” but when “zero tolerance” is used to modify a noun, it acts a bit like an adjective. It does not become an adjective, as many people think. But taken together, as a modifier, “zero-tolerance” functions like a single word; hence the hyphen.

Like most writing, careful reading and editing is what is needed along with the knowledge of a simple rule.

The Rule:
Fortunately, this is one rule that need not drive anyone mad: a group of words used as a single modifier should be hyphenated. or

The difference between a “third-world war” and a “third world war” is nothing to sniff at, and those selling a car might get rather more interest in the sale if they remember the hyphen in “a little-used car”.

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