Perhaps you heard the news last week about 16,000 hyphens "vanishing" from the newly published 6th edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Bill Walsh--blogger, Washington Post copy editor, and author of a couple of excellent books on punctuation and usage--explains why it's a non-issue, or even a nonissue:
Bill Hyphen Walsh must be aghast at this travesty, right? Well, no. Bill Hyphen Walsh issues blustery pronouncements about American English. These are British hyphens, hyphens as unnecessary and uninteresting as they are un-American, hyphens that link adjectives to the nouns they modify. The Brits get all worried that you might think a dressing gown is a gown that is dressing, and so they write dressing-gown to make it clear that it's a gown of the dressing variety. We'd never write dressing-gown, and not only because we have the superior term bathrobe.
Americans do use such hyphens, but only as a last resort, and often in terms most unsavory. There are giant-killers who are killers of giants as opposed to killers who are giants, and there are child-rapists who are rapists of children as opposed to rapists who are children. But we're sensible enough to know without the aid of a hyphen that a mountain climber isn't a climber that's a mountain.
Read the whole post, which features one of my all-time-favorite (yes! hyphenated in the all-American way!) headlines from The Onion.