I'm wondering how to properly hyphenate (or en-dash) the following phrase:

fiber optic to BNC converter

That is to say, a device that converts "fiber optic" to BNC. If it didn't contain an open compound, I'd simply write "optic-to-BNC converter; but I'm not sure how the open compound "fiber optic" might affect the situation. I prefer not to write "fiber optic–BNC converter", as this could cause confusion in some contexts if the reader doesn't read "–" as "to". I also thought about

fiber optic–to–BNC converter

, but that looks too strange to me.

My best guess is

fiber-optic to BNC converter

. I think this expresses that "fiber" and "optic" are related but "BNC" and "converter" are not. Is this the right way, or is there a better solution?

Note: this is actually an example of poor writing because fiber optic is essentially a transmission medium, while BNC refers to a connector type. So I actually solved my problem by writing "optical-to-electrical converter" (and afterward, "optoelectronic converter"). Nonetheless, the basic question remains. Another example phrase that exemplifies the problem is "surface area to volume ratio", for which I've found evidence of a variety of hyphenation styles.

  • 2
    How about "fiber-optic-to-BNC converter"? – Peter Shor Mar 9 '14 at 20:23
  • 1
    There are precedents for compressing 'fiber optic' into a single word, which could solve your problem. See reference.com/example-sentences/Fiberoptic – Leon Conrad Mar 9 '14 at 22:53
  • It always looks strange to me when hyphenating a phrase that includes a multiple-word component, since the word grouping is inverted from the semantic hierarchy. But I believe your first construct would be more correct. – Barmar Mar 11 '14 at 16:11
  • PeterShor's suggestion looks pretty good to me. It is true that "fiberoptic" is documented in some dictionaries and "fibreoptic" can be found elsewhere, too, but I dislike this term. @Barmar: To be clear, what do you mean by my "first construct"? – Cerran Mar 11 '14 at 18:35
  • I meant "optic-to-BNC". PeterShor's suggestion works for this specific case, but not the more general case in your title, as not all phrases like "fiber optic" can be replaced with compound words. – Barmar Mar 11 '14 at 19:36

I believe that despite this being a type of converter, it is still an adjective noun form. (i.e. converter is the noun here)

Hence, I would suggest following the multiple-adjectives-serving-as-a-single-modifier-before-a-noun format using hyphens. (OK, I strung that one together to prove a point....)

fiber-optic-to-bnc converter

Though, I would personally use fiberoptic-to-bnc converter. But, both forms are acceptable.

When speaking of an open compound form (fiber optic, etc.), I would say to preserve the open form if readability or meaning would suffer. In this case: fiber optic-to-BNC, fiber-optic-to-BNC, and fiberoptic-to-BNC will all likely be parsed properly by the reader. I would say the two hyphenated versions look neater, but it comes down to a style decision.

  • Right, that's the basic rule for using a multiple words as a single adjective. The thing is, I have an open compound (fiber optic) that serves as a unit within a hyphenated compound (X-to-BNC) that serves as an adjectival unit modifying the noun converter. I'm not certain how the open compound should interact with the hyphenated compound. (Should the open compound remain open or be hyphenated? Should the hyphens in the hyphenated compound be changed to en dashes? (Some style guides suggest "pre–Civil War" rather than "pre-Civil War".)) I'm now realizing the answer may be a stylistic one. – Cerran Mar 19 '14 at 15:33
  • @Cerran I would say that it is definitely stylistic. And, I would also say use the open form if the hyphen causes the meaning or recognition to suffer. fiber optic-to-BNC vs. fiber-optic-to-BNC vs. fiberoptic-to-BNC makes little difference in understanding. So, go with what looks best. – David M Mar 19 '14 at 15:35
  • @Cerran I've added that bit of info into my answer. – David M Mar 19 '14 at 15:39

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