In each issue of my monthly ezine, Better Writing at Work, I include an "Error Quest," a little test, or quest, to find one error in a short passage. This month’s quest involved finding a word that was missing a hyphen.
Unfortunately, the passage was missing two hyphens. I missed one hyphen when I typed the Error Quest (purely a typo–I know better!), and several sharp-eyed subscribers (Sally, Foy, and Barb) wrote to tell me about it. Inspired by the quest, Gretchen wrote with more questions about hyphens. Specifically, she wanted to know why Martha Stewart Living writes "all-purpose flour" and "vegetable-oil cooking spray."
I wrote in detail about hyphenation in 2006, and nothing much has changed since then. So I refer Gretchen and others who want to know more about hyphens to that July 11, 2006, post.
Always correct and elegant, Martha Stewart Living is using hyphens perfectly, of course. The hyphens Gretchen questioned indicate that it’s not "all flour" or "purpose flour"–it’s "all-purpose flour." And it’s not "vegetable cooking spray" or "oil cooking spray"–it’s "vegetable-oil cooking spray." The hyphens indicate the combined ideas.
If you decide to subscribe to my free newsletter, don’t look for my missing hyphen error in the current issue. I’ve corrected it–thanks to Sally, Foy, and Barb.