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When is it necessary to use a hyphen in writing a compound word?

In my place of business, it is part of our style guide to hyphenate "vehicle-borne IED," but not hyphenate "foodborne." As the editor, I am looking for some definitive guidance on when adjectives containing "borne" are hyphenated. Any ideas?

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marked as duplicate by Lynn, FumbleFingers, Gnawme, jwpat7, yoozer8 Feb 29 '12 at 4:05

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

@Gnawme: I'm voting with you. I can't see the original currently addresses OP's exact question, but we can't keep proliferating questions like this for every word-pair that could be hyphenated. – FumbleFingers Feb 29 '12 at 0:02

I'm afraid that there is no definitive guidance available. Punctuation at that level is entirely a matter of local and personal style.

If your style guide doesn't have a rule for it, make up your own, if you believe that consistency is that important. You're the editor, after all.

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Here's what I do: Look the "word" up in the dictionary. If it is there hyphenate it the way you find it. If it is not there then it is by definition not a word, but a two-word, compound adjective, and I hyphenate it.

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The problem with this approach is dictionaries are always playing "catch-up" with actual usage. And in the case of hyphenation, most of the popular movement is towards discarding them. If OP actually wants foodborne to be non-hyphenated this suggests he wants to be at the "leading edge" of usage. I don't think many dictionaries would have that one - lots of them still have air-borne, for example, which strikes me as positively quaint today. – FumbleFingers Feb 28 '12 at 23:52
On the other hand, if OP wanted to be leading-edge then she'd hyphenate as she pleased. Since she's looking for a rule she clearly would prefer to stick with established convention. – Jim Feb 29 '12 at 2:40
Touché! Definitely leading-edge hyphenation there! (I missed my chance to get in first, having been saddled with a noun rather than adjectival context! :) – FumbleFingers Feb 29 '12 at 3:06

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