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1: Should I hyphenate the two bold words to make "JFK-assassination"?

"I don't pay attention to this JFK assassination nonsense."

2: Wouldn't it be excessive to hyphenate the two bold words to make "conspiracy theorists", even though technically you can see an argument for that?

I do this all the time on Facebook and will never convert hardcore conspiracy theorists

3: How should I format the bold? Looks like "advisory" should be lowercase...I think...? And I doubt that I need to hyphenate "Pentagon-advisory" or hyphenate "advisory-documents"...right?

we have Pentagon advisory documents that actually tell the government to periodically leak information about the JFK assassination in order to distract the public from normal mainstream power

Last edited by Andrew Van Wagner
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Hi, Andrew—Let me consolidate and number for you all the various noun phrases you are asking about here, in order of their appearance above:

(1) this JFK assassination nonsense
(2) hardcore conspiracy theorists
(3) Pentagon advisory documents
(4) a crazy conspiracy theorist
(5) a mildly insane conspiracy theorist
(6) the JFK conspiracy industry
(7) big conspiracy books

A hyphen is neither needed nor desirable in any of those phrases. The only ones that could take a hyphen are (1) and (6). But since "JFK" is not an adjective, there is no danger of its being understood to modify the head noun.

We cannot speak of "assassination nonsense that is JFK" (contrast: "a conspiracy theorist that is crazy") so we know that "JFK" belongs with "assassination"; the phrase means "nonsense about the assassination of JFK."

Now, what if (1) were "this presidential assassination nonsense"? In that case, I would support your using a hyphen, to clarify that it means "nonsense about presidential assassinations," not "assassination nonsense that is presidential."

Last edited by David, Moderator

Thank you so much for consolidating all of my queries; you really went above and beyond and I appreciate that a lot because I was very messy in just spreading them all out all over this thread! I appreciate it a lot!

So here are the examples:

(1) this JFK assassination nonsense
(2) hardcore conspiracy theorists
(3) Pentagon advisory documents
(4) a crazy conspiracy theorist
(5) a mildly insane conspiracy theorist
(6) the JFK conspiracy industry
(7) big conspiracy books

How exactly do we know that the following interpretations aren't possible?

(1) JFK [assassination nonsense]

(2) [hardcore conspiracy] theorists

(3) ...I'm not even sure if this should be thought of as "[Pentagon advisory] documents" or "Pentagon [advisory documents], actually!

(4) [crazy conspiracy] theorist

(5) [mildly insane conspiracy] theorist

(6) JFK [conspiracy industry]

(7) [big conspiracy] books

I guess that the answer is "common sense" when it comes to (2) and (4) and (5) and (7).

Then (3) is a weird one; not even sure how it's supposed to be interpreted!

Then that leaves (1) and (6), which are the two that you said could actually take a hyphen.

These issues are tricky because you can look at the NYT and see that (if I recall correctly) they go back and forth on whether to do (A) "fast food worker" or (B) "fast-food worker"...the distinction between (A) and (B) is a matter of common sense, since "fast food" is such a common phrase, although theoretically you might interpret that as "fast [food worker]".

Last edited by Andrew Van Wagner


How exactly do we know that the following interpretations aren't possible?

(1) JFK [assassination nonsense]

(2) [hardcore conspiracy] theorists

(3) ...I'm not even sure if this should be thought of as "[Pentagon advisory] documents" or "Pentagon [advisory documents], actually!

(4) [crazy conspiracy] theorist

(5) [mildly insane conspiracy] theorist

(6) JFK [conspiracy industry]

(7) [big conspiracy] books



1. Well, if we were visiting earth from another planet, I suppose "JFK [assassination nonsense]" could be interpreted as being some brand of assassination nonsense. Fortunately, human beings have common sense. We don't need to be so heavy-handed in punctuation that we are writing for those who lack common sense or who wish perversely to misunderstand.

2. If you mean "[hardcore conspiracy] theorists," then you should go right ahead and use a hyphen. What "hardcore conspiracy theorists" means is "hardcore [conspiracy theorists]." That's how the syntax of cumulative adjectives works: each additional one modifies the aggregate of those to the right (unless there is a hyphen to tell us otherwise). Normally, we say that people are hardcore in some respect. Normally, we do not say that conspiracies are hardcore.

3. If, by "Pentagon advisory documents," your intended meaning is "advisory documents from the Pentagon," then that is exactly what "Pentagon advisory documents" is naturally interpreted as meaning. Again, you need to be clear about the syntax of cumulative adjectives (or cumulative adjectival elements) within a noun phrase. That way you won't need to request an explanation from us every time you write a noun phrase with more than one modifier. You do a lot of writing, and you're doing well! Hyphens should only be used when necessary. If you're not sprinkling them everywhere unnecessarily, that's good!

4. "Crazy-conspiracy theorists" are theorists who deal with crazy conspiracies. "Crazy conspiracy theorists" (no hyphen) are conspiracy theorists who are crazy. I assumed, using common sense, that you meant the second, but if you meant the first, you go right ahead and add that hyphen.

5. See the explanation for (4).

6. See the explanation for (1).

7. See the explanation for (4).

I recognize that you offered an explanation about (1), but I didn't grasp how that eliminates the possibility of interpreting it as "JFK [assassination nonsense]".

See the explanation for (1).

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