'be-all and end-all" as a compound adjective

UserTK

Banned
English-Ireland
Hi.

"Be-all and end-all," as a noun, has only two hyphens (see below).

the central and all-important part:
His work was the be-all and end-all of his existence.

But if the phrase is used as a compound adjective before a noun, does the following look correct, with four hyphens?
None of the OneLook dictionaries show an adjectival form.

It was not the be-all-and-end-all solution.

Does the bolded/underlined phrase look correctly punctuated above as a compound adjective (with four hyphens)?

Thank you.
 
  • UserTK

    Banned
    English-Ireland
    Thank you, Thomas. I was only asking because I am editing a piece in which the author uses the phrase as an adjective and won't permit a recast.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    In that case, a possible option would be to use the usual two hyphens, but to mark the expression in some way to make it stand out, such as by italicising it or enclosing it in quote-marks:

    It was not a 'be-all and end-all' solution.
     

    RedwoodGrove

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    Apparently the phrase is used a lot as an adjective nowadays, though Shakespeare used it as a noun. Edinburgher's solution seems elegant. Here's a modern rendition of the original:

    MACBETH
    If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
    It were done quickly. If the assassination
    Could trammel up the consequence, and catch
    With his surcease success; that but this blow
    Might be the be-all and the end-all here,
    But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
    We’d jump the life to come. But in these cases ...
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    In that case, a possible option would be to use the usual two hyphens, but to mark the expression in some way to make it stand out, such as by italicising it or enclosing it in quote-marks:

    It was not a 'be-all and end-all' solution.
    I'd be worried that might look like an apology for using the expression adjectivally, as if one was openly ashamed of it.
     

    UserTK

    Banned
    English-Ireland
    Excellent.

    I will go with this (with double quote marks):

    It was not a “be-all and end-all” solution.

    Or:

    It was not a be-all and end-all solution.

    Thanks, everyone.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    I'd be worried that might look like an apology for using the expression adjectivally, as if one was openly ashamed of it.
    Well, perhaps it wouldn't be such a bad thing to be ashamed of it, bearing in mind what you said in #2.

    Writers are often cautioned to avoid clichés ("like the plague" :p), and this expression probably qualifies as one. I might be tempted to put all-forgiving quotes around it even when not using it adjectivally.
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    It doesn't need quotes. It does need four hyphens. If it only had two hyphens, that would make it into two separate adjectives: be-all on the one hand and end-all on the other. So far as I'm aware, no such adjectives exist.

    So it's a cliché, so what? In a way, all words are clichés, unless you invent your language anew every time you write. Otherwise how would we understand each other?
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    I agree it needs four hyphens if not using quotes or something similar, and that quotes are therefore not needed.
    But we can turn that around and say it doesn't need four hyphens if you do use quotes or something similar, and four hyphens are therefore not necessary either.

    This is because what the four hyphens do is to make the expression into a compound adjective by grouping them together. The alternative methods of quoting, italicising, underlining, or whatever also serve that grouping purpose.
    So in the end it boils down to a style choice. My preference happens to be for the two-hyphen version, but it's not a strong preference. Call it 60-40.
     
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