Hyphens, En Dashes, Em Dashes

Q. I have a coworker—in a different department, I’m relieved to say—who insists that superlatives and comparatives should be hyphenated (for example, “That is the most-ridiculous rule in the history of the written word”). This particular coworker is, alas, in a position of considerable authority, and has cajoled (and, where necessary, bullied) others into following her overly hyphenated copyediting style. I have looked in vain for some sort of authoritative explanation regarding superlatives and comparatives, to no avail. I sincerely hope you will come to my rescue.

A. You and your colleague can find answers in the CMOS hyphenation table at 7.85, section 2, “Compounds according to parts of speech.” The hyphen is in fact sometimes needed, but compounds with more, most, and so forth may be left open unless ambiguity threatens:

the most ridiculous rules (most in number)


the most-ridiculous rules (most in wackiness)