Hyphens, En Dashes, Em Dashes
Q. A recent article in Science magazine included the following sentence: “Every 10 weeks, Sundquist gets 32 bee sting-like injections of the nerve-numbing botulism toxin into her face and neck.” Should that be “bee-sting-like”?
A. A look at the article online reveals that the punctuation between sting and like is not a hyphen but an en dash (bee sting–like), which indicates that the entire phrase bee sting goes with like. We show this use of the en dash at CMOS 6.80 in the example “Chuck Berry–style lyrics.” That kind of en dash (as we say) “is most helpful with proper compounds, whose limits are established within the larger context by capitalization.” The danger in using it for lowercased phrases is that many readers will read the dash as a hyphen—as you did. A good solution for phrases that aren’t proper nouns is to use two hyphens instead, as you suggest: bee-sting-like.