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

I want to write a term composed out of multiple words, and I would like to know whether I have to use hyphens or quotes.

Following options came to my mind:

  • 'but he said' argument
  • 'but he said'-argument
  • but-he-said argument
  • but-he-said-argument
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Could you post some of the context, so it's clearer what the term is supposed to mean? –  ruakh Oct 3 '12 at 19:39
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@ruakh: It wouldn't make any difference exactly what OP wanted it to mean. Or even the exact words. The same answer would apply if we were talking about a “He said, she said” argument. FWIW, I'd use quote marks, not hyphens - I think because none of them are sufficiently "recognised" descriptive terms for that type of argument. –  FumbleFingers Oct 3 '12 at 20:23
    
@FumbleFingers: I take it that you take the term to mean "an argument of the form 'but he said ...'"? –  ruakh Oct 3 '12 at 20:57
    
In this example it's the discussion between small children that you can hardly solve rationally: "But he said that..." –  phi1010 Oct 3 '12 at 21:40
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marked as duplicate by Carlo_R., jwpat7, MετάEd, tchrist, J.R. Oct 3 '12 at 23:39

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1 Answer

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I would choose quotation marks without hyphenation:

…a “but he said” argument…

“But he said” functions not only as an adjective—it describes the kind of argument—but also as a quote, from one of the hypothetical arguers. Hyphens also make sense:

…a but-he-said argument…

But I think this is less readable. Regardless, I would not use a hyphen before argument.

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My thoughts exactly. I'm a bit disappointed in those people who've voted to close this question as a duplicate, since the original is only concerned with possible hyphenation or word-concatenation (middle class, daughter-in-law, notebook). But we have at least three of us already agreeing that in OP's specific case here, quote marks are the preferred option (they're not mentioned anywhere in the earlier question or its answers/comments). –  FumbleFingers Oct 3 '12 at 23:00
    
@FumbleFingers: FWIW, the message may say "closed as exact duplicate," but only two of the five closers selected that reason. (Others selected "not constructive", "NARQ", etc.). –  J.R. Oct 3 '12 at 23:45
    
@J.R.: There were only 3 closevotes when I posted my comment, and two of them gave "dup" as the reason. I'm now also disappointed in the others too - although I don't rate this question particularly highly, I think it's more relevant to ELU than most of the top twenty upvoted questions. Sigh. –  FumbleFingers Oct 4 '12 at 0:00
    
@FumbleFingers: I was kind of torn; I wish the O.P. had added some more context. I'm not as enthralled with the question as you, but you've convinced me that the question has some merit, so I've voted to reopen. –  J.R. Oct 4 '12 at 0:08
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@J.R.: I'm hardly enthralled with it! I don't care much about orthography at the best of times. To me, language is spoken, and I don't care that much how it's transcribed. But, for example, this instance of He offered me only an 'in your face' look seems similar to OP's, and I find quote marks rather than hyphens to be appropriate. So this is imho a different question to the supposed "dup". –  FumbleFingers Oct 4 '12 at 2:08
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