The editor is the writer’s best friend.
Cert. petitions in the U.S. Supreme Court

Why we should hyphenate our phrasal adjectives

A magazine I’m looking at now has a story with this headline:

401(k) Excessive Fee Litigation

This leaves me to wonder what is excessive: the fee or the litigation? The story reveals that it’s about litigation over excessive fees. A little punctuation removes the ambiguity:

401(k) Excessive-Fee Litigation

“When a phrase functions as an adjective—an increasingly frequent phenomenon in late-20th-century English—the phrase should ordinarily be hyphenated. Seemingly everyone in the literary world knows this except lawyers.” Bryan A. Garner, A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage 657 (2d ed. 1995).