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Question
Bobbie -

Greetings.  I'm in the final stages of editing a manuscript, and my editor and I have arrived at a (very minor)"grammatical impasse." I apologize in advance for the crude nature of the language.  

From a new novel where the protagonist has a very colorful vernacular, my question centers around a variation of the adjective, bad-ass, as in, "That's a bad-ass car." Specifically, he will often expand it to a more general, three-word phrase, as in, "That was bad-fucking-ass!" (in enthusiastic response to something). My question: should that three-word phrase be hyphenated?

Thanks so much for your time,
Bobby

Answer
Thank you for making me smile this morning!

Technically speaking, when all three words are used as an adjective to describe a noun (as in "That's a bad-fucking-ass car."), hyphens are correct. When the adjectives stand alone and do not refer to a noun, as in the example, "That was bad fucking ass," technically it would not be hyphenated. Written this way, however, the sentence could be misinterpreted, because it appears that the ass was bad. The purpose of punctuation is to add clarity to a sentence, so in the end, if you sense that something could be misinterpreted, it's time to rewrite it or punctuate it in a way that ensures clarity. If left to me, I'd rewrite it so the hyphens are used correctly, as in "That's a bad-fucking-ass car."

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Yours in writing,
Bobbie Christmas

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Bobbie Christmas

Expertise

Book Doctor Bobbie Christmas owns Zebra Communications, a book-editing firm in metro Atlanta. She not only edits books, she also helps writers power up their prose to increase their chances of success. She is the author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), a creative-writing guide that won three awards.

Experience

Bobbie has spent more than 40 years in the publishing and communications industry and has run Zebra Communications, a book-editing company, since 1992. The editor of many publications and periodicals, she has worked with book publishers and trade magazine publishers as well as working in marketing communications and corporate communications.

Organizations
Past president, Georgia Writers Association; past vice president, South Carolina Writers Workshop; charter/lifelong member, Florida Writers Association; Southeastern Writers Association; Atlanta Writers Club; Society for the Preservation of English Language and Literature (SPELL); International Guild of Professional Consultants

Publications
Write in Style (Union Square Publishing), A Cup of Comfort (Adams Media Corporation), A Cup of Comfort for Friends (Adams Media), A Cup of Comfort for Mothers and Sons (Adams Media), Haunted Engounters (Atriad Press), Remembering Woolworth's (St. Martin's Press), First-Time Home Buyer magazine, HomeBusiness Journal, Apparel Industry Magazine, Edge Magazine, Atlanta Jewish Times, Time Travel Australia, American Writers Review, Points North, That's Entertainment, Atlanta Parent, Agnes Scott Alumnae Magazine, etc.

Education/Credentials
Journalism: University of South Carolina plus four decades of working in publishing, marketing, communications, advertising, newspaper and magazine production, book publishing, etc.

Awards and Honors
First Place, nonfiction, Georgia Writers Annual Contest, 2005; First Place, education, Royal Palm Literary Award, 2004; Best in Division, Georgia Author of the Year Awards, 2005; Finalist, Best Books 2005, USA BookNews Third Place, nonfiction, Georgia Writers, 1999; Nominated for Georgia Author of the Year, 1998; plus many other awards

Past/Present Clients
Capital Books, Sourcebooks, Olin Frederick, The Writer's Machine, Russell Dean & Company, Outskirts Press, and hundreds of writers.

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