This is the sign in question.
This is the sign in question. CF

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On a trip to a private East Coast college where I was doing a brief teaching gig, I noticed this sign above a men's room urinal. Instantly, I thought of Dave Segal. It's not normal to think about Dave Segal while I'm at the urinal, but the sign made me think instantly of his grammar tirades—like this one and this one and this one and this one and this one.

I completely agree about the "it's"/"its" problem, and the phrases "free gift," "brutally murdered," and "it goes without saying." But unnecessary hyphens are the grammar problem no one is talking about.

Quick refresher: Hyphens are that little dash used to link words together.

If you are modifying a word, but the modifier itself is more than one word long, you usually need a hyphen. For example: If you want a not-that-hot latte, you need those hyphens, otherwise someone might look at that phrase and see the last two words (hot latte), misunderstand your meaning, and go off and make you a scalding hot latte.

Another example: If you're serving peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, you need those hyphens in there, otherwise people might think you're serving vats of peanut butter along with jelly sandwiches.

Sure, it's possible that without those hyphens, people will still understand your meaning, but your meaning will be murky. The hyphens are clarifying. They eliminate confusion.

I stood there looking at the above sign, very confused.

FAUCET SHUTS-OFF AUTOMATICALLY

Whoever made the sign was probably thinking about how "shut-off" is often a self-contained phrase modifying something else (eg., "fire valve shut-off"). There, the hyphen is needed, because, well, it's not a "valve shut," it's a "valve shut-off." Has to be there. But "faucet shuts off automatically" is just a sentence. "Shuts off" is not modifying "automatically." (In fact, the modifier here is "automatically.")

Or maybe since "Easy-Off" Faucet seems to be a brand name (judging from the rest of the sign), whoever made the sign thinks there needs to be a hyphen before other instances of "off." They are wrong, but at least it's understandable.

Nevertheless, it was frustrating to stand there looking at this mistake while teaching at a graduate writing program. Think of the students!

So... I did some light copyediting.

First I had to leave and come back with a Sharpie.
First I had to leave and come back with a Sharpie. CF

Then make sure the coast was clear while I colored in the extraneous hyphen.
Then make sure the coast was clear while I colored in the extraneous hyphen.

Thats better.
That's better.