I am not the only one with hyphen issues. Take this recent tweet of the L.A. Times' Henry Fuhrmann, who oversees the paper's copy desk:
I asked for more information, and Fuhrmann responded with some not-uncommon sentiments about hyphens: "My colleague's observation was that we use them where we don't need them, yet omit them where we do. My take: Talking about hyphens is like talking about politics. You resolve nothing, everyone's feelings get hurt, and you hold fast to your original beliefs." He added, to our grave sorrow, "I don't have specific examples handy of bad hyphenating or resulting fisticuffs, but it is a sort of partisan issue!"
True, true. Grammatical pet peeves are the secret joys, the sour candies, of every former and current copy editor, though probably even those of us who've never proofed a page in an official capacity have them too. Those of us reading (and the one of us writing) this post likely have especially strong opinions about the essential yet mundane (not to us!) topic of punctuation. One pet peeve of mine happens to be when the hyphen is not needed and appears there anyway. For instance, with adverbs that end in ly. You don't need a hyphen when writing, "What a sweetly-sung song!" or "What a beautifully-hewn artisanal handicraft!" In other cases, two words used to modify a noun might get a hyphen (a sweet-sung song, perhaps, if you're being colloquial; a well-hewn artisanal handicraft, if you must), the ly absolves you of needing that hyphen, and, in fact, it is wrong to include it. Another pet peeve of mine: improper hyphenation when designating ages. You do write "a seven-year-old girl." You don't write, however, "the girl is seven-years-old." In the latter case, you do not need the hyphens, and when they are included, they are like daggers to my soul, a wasted piece of punctuation bound for purgatory. It's too sad to consider. A misused hyphen, a bitter travesty.
Barring exceptions for style, there are, however, some pretty basic rules about hyphenation that can help. Elsewhere, yes, punctuation may become complicated, but getting the majority of hyphens you're going to contend with right isn't too terribly difficult. Many words are in the dictionary. In fact, most of them are. And you can look them up. So, instead of just slapping a hyphen in between car and port, do a check. What do you know? It's one word. You just saved yourself a valuable hyphen. Repeat with other words; this is really the simplest and most effective rule of hyphenation! Mignon Fogarty, aka, the Grammar Girl, does point out that hyphens tend to come with a lot of "exceptions"—so maybe a lot of this is the hyphen's fault, or at least you can blame it to some extent. Some brief tips from her: Check the dictionary; hyphenate two words to apply them as a single unit before a noun but not after it; check a dictionary also when hyphenating within a single word (re-press or repress?); hyphenate your spelled-out numbers (like twenty-nine, seventy-seven, or thirty-three ... don't forget your fractions, either).