Gotta Dash

After reviewing hundreds of client manuscripts, we can say with some certainty that everybody has her or his favorite punctuation. Some people are fond of ellipses which make them look as if they are perpetually drifting off… Maybe trying to get off the page…

Lately there have been a lot of semi-colon users; they write in connected sentences; we aren’t sure why this is; but it does tend to run everything together in a sort of mush.

Readers of this blog may have observed that our favorite punctuation is the em dash – so named because it is a big as the letter “m” (in contrast to the en dash which is the size of the letter “n”). We like to use it to interrupt ourselves – introduce a break in thought – rather than some of the other, many uses for the em dash. And we like to surround it with spaces a la THE NEW YORK TIMES MANUAL OF STYLE AND USAGE and in contradiction of THE CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE.

The em dash is a new phenomenon. Maybe that’s why we like it so much. It did not exist until the computer age and even now, there is no em dash key per se. One has to push control and then, the dash key in the numbers section. We think this makes the em dash kind of special. But the internet is full of criticism. Blogger Noreen Malone wrote in Slate last year that em dashes make the language look like it “is signaling distress in Morse code.”

“The problem with the dash—as you may have noticed!—is that it discourages truly efficient writing. It also—and this might be its worst sin—disrupts the flow of a sentence. Don't you find it annoying—and you can tell me if you do, I won't be hurt—when a writer inserts a thought into the midst of another one that's not yet complete?”

We are not deterred; we like the em dash and we intend to use it. We stand up for all our writers right to use whatever their favorite punctuation is in whatever way they want… Then, we step in and correct it.