Archive for June 6th, 2011

A Dashing Post

I’ve noticed two lexicographical topics popping up on Twitter in the last few months.  The first is the move to only one space between sentences.  The second is the proper use of the various horizontal lines that are part of the English grammar.  It’s an odd pairing, as one looks to simplify the more obscure rules of English, the other looks to reinforce some of the oddest ones, ones that directly measure how long a line is in order to determine its exact meaning.  I can’t help but wonder if there’s some conservation of anal retentiveness going on, as I can’t find any better explanation.

So.  In order to better understand horizontal lines, I decided to do a little research and figure out just what the differences are so I can use them properly.  My results are below.

The Em-Dash.  This is also referred to as the “mutton” as it was originally derived from sheep during the early days of type setting.  The em-dash is a bit of a joke created by authors of style guides, who secretly know that there is no actual situation in which this is the correct punctuation.

The En-Dash.  These once roamed the midwest in great herds, and their calls could be heard for miles away during the rutting season.  Unfortunately it was learned that their meat is tasty and their corpses make fine punctuation, so today they have been hunted nearly to extinction.  Now protected by the endangered species act, there is a $500 fine associated with using one in a manuscript.

The El-Dash.  Long thought to be mythical, the El-Dash has been described by various early style guides as being anywhere between ten inches and three feet long.  The confirmation of the El-Dashes existence was discovered in 1954 at an archaeological site in Syria where the remains of an el-dash just over a foot long were discovered amongst the pottery shards.

The Hyphen.  This is not actually a dash, but is properly a circle viewed edge-on.

The Swung Dash.  Often typed using the tilde character on modern keyboards, the swung dash is the daring, devil-may-care darker cousin of the dash family.  It is used to emphasize that there might be derring-do afoot, such as in the example: “Death Is Imminent ~Explorers Be Ware!~”

The minus sign.  Once used exclusively for mathematics, this horizontal line recently bested all other comers in a two-falls-out-of-three wrestling match, and is to be used for all horizontal bar punctuation needs from this point forward.

I’ve certainly learned a lot from this bit of research, and I hope you have too.  Just remember to keep double spacing your sentences, and make sure to always use your minus signs.  If you discover a horizontally linear punctuation not on this list in your reading or writing, please contact your local authorities and above all else stay calm.  ~They can sense fear!~

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