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I'm a bit flummoxed as to a usage of "better-tailor", apparently used as a compound verb. It was used in this sentence I saw:

But just like with the White House "We the People" thing, they will be able to better-tailor the letter that tells you they're shoving it down your throat whether you want it or not.

I'm guessing from context it means something like "create in a skilled way" but I've never seen this used before; can someone give me a specific meaning?

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I have no idea if this is a phrase so I won't answer, but I think there's a strong possibility there's a typo involved. The two discrete words "better tailor," as in "to be more able to manipulate the letter such that it works just as they intend," would be perfect here. –  Brendon Nov 1 '11 at 16:58
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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The hyphen is misleading:

They will be able to better tailor the letter...

It means:

They will be able to tailor the letter better...

(Tailor means adapt/suit, and the adverb better is often a splitter of infinitives.)

The context is not all that formal or scholarly in point of grammar, so the slip is not surprising.

Ngrams has no instances of better-tailor, for what it's worth.

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This was basically the interpretation I gave to it, but I was just a bit confused by the meaning of the verb "tailor"; to me, it suggests there is something existing to be tailored, but in this context the person is talking about the government creating a new letter from scratch. Perhaps just a badly-chosen verb. –  Jez Nov 1 '11 at 17:02
    
You can certainly tailor a new letter. Maybe not the best choice of words, though. –  Daniel Nov 1 '11 at 17:03
    
If "tailor" means "adapt", can you tailor a new letter, though? Don't you have to tailor an existing thing? –  Jez Nov 1 '11 at 17:07
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Without more context, I can't be sure, but I take that one of two ways: they already referred to such a letter (and this is also why they use the definite article the to refer to the letter), or, they're making the humorous claim that the American public has been subjected to such a letter time and time again. –  Brendon Nov 1 '11 at 17:12
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@Jez: You could write a letter that was beter-tailored than previous letters. To "tailor" something doesn't necessarily mean that you are taking a generic model and customizing it: you could be making a custom model from scratch. A "tailored suit" is not necessarily a suit that was pre-cut and is now being adapted to the customer. It could be a suit being made from scratch for this customer. –  Jay Nov 2 '11 at 17:41
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To "tailor" something is to make something specific to a given person or use. When you buy a "tailored suit", you are buying a suit that has been custom-made for you, as opposed to buying a suit off the rack at a department store. When a machine is "tailored" for a certain factory, that means that it has been modified to suit the particular needs of that factory.

So to "better tailor" something would be to do a better job of customizing it for a specific use or application. In context, to "better tailor the letter" would mean to edit the text in a way that makes it more suitable for a specific target audience or purpose.

As drɱ65 notes, the hypen is inappropriate here. It should be "to better tailor the letter", not "to better-tailor" it. "Tailor" is a verb that is being modified by the adverb "better". We do not use a hyphen in such a context. Perhaps the writer started out writing "this was a better-tailored letter", in which case the hyphen would be appropriate. You do use a hyphen to connect an adverb ("better") to an adjective that it modifies ("tailored").

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