There are days when the writing business makes as much sense as Lewis Carroll, and when pondering grammar rules, it’s best to keep his advice in mind: "Contrariwise, if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic." Or, that’s grammar.
Other wenches write about their fascinating historical research and travel explorations. I’m stuck in snowy St. Louis with the internet and no lovely English villages, working on a (shudder) copyedit, so you get grammar rules today. The appalling part of grammar is that everyone expects writers to know the rules, but there are actually dozens of styles of grammar and no two rules are exactly the same, which is what I ran into with the hyphen usage in THE WICKED WYCKERLY.
Generally, I leave the copyeditors to do their own thing when it comes to punctuation, because I refuse to pay for the Chicago Manual of Style online and figure the pro’s know better than I do. (I used up my free trial offer, but anyone else working on a manuscript who hasn’t, should give it a try. It’s a fun headache.) But my Earl of Wyckerly is a bit eccentric, and when he started talking about his cheese-rolling prize and the CE took the hyphen out, I backed up and said wait a minute…
And then I noticed a hyphen had been added between the adverb/adjective in "most important advantage" and I balked entirely. I was vaguely aware that I needed to hyphenate some adverb/adjective compounds, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen a hyphen after most. Which meant I had to actually hunt rules, ugh.
For anyone wondering why some descriptions are hyphenated and some aren’t– keep wondering. The range of qualifications is insane. But basically, if the compound adjective is a unit or one idea¸then it’s hyphenated: first-class, second-degree, one-man, two-year-old and yes, cheese-rolling. But "most important advantage" does not constitute a single unit or idea because it could be an important advantage without the most—the compound could be separated without harming the meaning. Or that’s how I’m explaining it to myself.
If anyone else has a better explanation, or a worse grammatical pet peeve, here’s the place to deposit them. I won't bother the wenches with more of my copyediting inanities because I did so over on patriciarice.blogspot.com . If you really want to suffer, mosey over there.
And if you’d rather stick your head in the sand and forget grammar with me, then give me your favorite Lewis Carroll quote. I can’t decide between “When
I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just
what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.'” and
sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
But that’s today and tomorrow is another day.