Hyphens, En Dashes, Em Dashes

Q. Our office compiles, edits, and publishes the laws and statutes for the state legislature. Some people in the office are averse to hyphenating phrasal adjectives, particularly ones that consist of open compounds, because they feel “these are terms recognized by everyone and are unnecessary to hyphenate. There is no confusion when reading ‘wild rice industry,’ ‘general fund appropriation,’ ‘high school student.’ These terms are instantly recognizable.” A bit presumptuous, no? A good editor helps the reader, especially when it comes to law and litigation. How does one decide whether a term is known to everyone in the world?

A. It’s not easy. You must send out a survey to everyone in the world and wait for them all to reply. Meanwhile, the rest of us will struggle along with common sense, CMOS 7.84 (17th ed.), and a good dictionary.