This teachable moment is brought to you by Snooki, who recently tweeted: “I never dissed Jessica Simpson you weirdo tabloids , get over it with your ‘pregnant war’ articles. I love the girl and her hot ass bump.”
Leaving aside the other irregularities in this tweet, as I don’t usually think it’s worth pointing out most Twitter-related typos, I’d like to direct your attention to the term hot ass bump to point out that this is a perfect example of the difference a tiny bit of punctuation can make. In this case, I’m referring to a well-placed hyphen.
Okay, here’s the deal: There is a difference between Jessica Simpson’s hot ass bump (is that even a thing?) and her hot-ass bump (note the hyphen in the compound modifier).
As Grammar Girl writes, “Sometimes it is especially important to hyphenate the compound modifier because words can mean different things depending on the hyphenation. When you hyphenate the words, you are applying them as a single unit to the noun.” And Grammarphobia instructs, “In general, two-word descriptions are hyphenated before a noun (“powder-blue dress,” “red-haired cousin,” “well-done hamburger”). But if the description comes after the noun, no hyphen is used (“a dress of powder blue,” “a cousin who’s red haired,” “a hamburger well done”).”
If Snooki had been talking about Jessica’s rear end, hot ass bump would have been correct. But since Snooki is referring to Jessica’s baby bump (a word which, incidentally, I could never hear again and be perfectly happy), which she meant to
complement compliment using the adjective hot ass, what she wanted was hot-ass bump.