Dash Clash — En or Em

by Charmaine on March 13, 2009

I’ve noticed that WordPress is automatically converting double hyphens in my posts to em dashes, and I’m not happy.

At my last job (shoutout to all TIers), we had a quarterly meeting of the Writers Guild, where we took up just such controversies. Nothing makes me more riled up (think crazed football fan) than the opportunity to debate a style issue.

When “en or em” appeared on our agenda, we perused a very wide range of consumer and trade magazines to see if we could determine prevalent usage (naturally AP is no help on this one — thanks again for being so obstinate and antiquated, AP, but that’s another post for another time).

Usage was all over the place. Not only were some publications using em over en, some were giving each mark a space on either side and some weren’t. I found the em dash with no spaces particularly claustrophobic. If the point of using a dash is to ask the reader to pause (moreso than a comma, colon, or semicolon could), it would seem to me that crowding this long horizontal line between words on either side is counterintuitive.

TI’s Writers Guild decided to go with space-en-dash-space, and it’s been to my eye the “right” dash ever since. It’s long enough to be clearly distinctive from a hyphen and the spaces on either side help accentuate the visual interruption in the text.

An em-dash with spaces seems excessive and heavy-handed to me —  all nouveau riche and self-centered. So although I’ll put up with this automatic conversion to em dashes, at least you’ll know what I really think.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

JD (The Engine Room) April 5, 2009 at 11:08 am

We go for space-en-dash-space, although I noticed this weekend that The Times goes for the em (possibly without spaces, I would have to check).

Charmaine April 5, 2009 at 11:49 am

I recently read that Chicago’s Q&A editor spoke of the possibility of “killing off the en dash,” but I can’t under any scenarios imagine why!

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