When not to be a nit-pick editor

One of the problems with hyphenation in the English language is when there are strings of words requiring them. Even normally adept writers struggle, adding hyphens where they aren’t needed or falling one hyphen short. Context is key, and there are good arguments for situations where simplifying the language to avoid hyphens is best. However, let’s look at a case that begs for at least some hyphenation.

A classic example is “non-life-threatening injuries.” The common errors include “nonlife-threatening injuries” and “non-life threatening injuries,” which simultaneously imply putting a hit out on inanimate objects and threatening the injuries with death.

But sometimes, it’s not worth pointing out. As in this article (the hyphen issue has been corrected), which had the missing hyphen. In a larger conversation about the Washington Post’s online editing? That might make sense. But when jumping on that in a article that details how three people are dead by violent means, it’s callous and misses the forest for the trees.

Pick your spots, in other words.