Death to the Dash


Being a typography-phile, I love the art and beauty of typography. It was one of my favourite courses to teach in a college computer graphics program. Boldly I fought the rules taught by typing teachers to compensate for limitations of the typewriter. With computers we are able to adhere to the long-standing typesetting rules, like one space after a sentence not two.

And I love dashes! Three different dashes with three different purposes. The smallest, commonly called a hyphen, is used to connect two related things such as long-standing. The en dash is used to indicate a range or replace the word to when writing something such as MF or pages 121–129. And finally, the em dash is used to indicate a pause or further thought  when you want to say something further like this or can be used instead of parenthesis.

By far, my favourite is the em dash. When writing, I often want to indicate a pause in the character’s thinking and the em dash with spaces on either side beautifully brings the reader to pause. It admirably does the job of replicating what happens in thinking. We have all had the experience of pausing while speaking because we are thinking, then after a pause we add an additional thought. The em dash did a great job at indicating that pause. I love the way it puts on paper what happens in our minds and in real life.

The sad news from my editor is the em dash is falling out of favour. Soon the Chicago Manual of Style will be replacing the em dash with an en dash. Apparently the em dash looks “awful” and it’s hard for the eye to separate from the text  so it is going the way of the dodo.

En dashes will now pick up the work of em dashes. With spaces on either side of an en dash, it should now be used to separate thoughts, and can be used to replace semicolons and colons. Without spaces on either side, the en dash will continue to replace the word to.

Good-bye my old friend  you have worked hard on my behalf. I will miss your length that does bring the reader to pause for a moment. There very thing I love about you others despise and have decided you must end. I guess the world is in too much of a hurry to appreciate the art of a pause. Every time I must use an en dash to break away to a side thought I will mourn your passing.

Rest in peace my friend.

Any supporters out there for the em dash?
Do you have typographic items you particularly favour?
Any you do not like or use?
Share your thoughts!

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