Losing the em-dash

Help, Typography

More and more on the Internet the em-dash (—) is disappearing. This is probably because of a few reasons.

  • Lack of knowledge of when to use them
  • How difficult it is to actually add one
  • Webpages not automatically turning “- -” into an em-dash like Microsoft Word auto-correct
  • How hard they are to find in other software packages
  • Laziness and/or ignorance

In order to add the em-dash to this post I Google-searched “em-dash” and copied and pasted it. Easy. I have a shortcut on my Wacom Tablet that works with InDesign to put the em-dash in—instead of avoiding the long maze through the menu.

em-dash

InDesign menu to find an em-dash

 

When I started to notice the rise in “- -” formatting on the Internet I was a little sad because the formatting is wrong. Then I realised that it has shown up in more and more places on the Internet and was now approaching critical mass. I have seen this misuse on blogs about writing blogs.

 

The “- -” has not only taken over the Internet. I’ve seen it in printed brochures and *gasp* a printed book.

Since it was little effort to place the actual em-dash, and as a typesetter I do this regularly, I do get upset seeing this wrong formatting. I understand it takes a moment and breaks your flow but before publishing, it is always wise to edit and proof your work and this is where a find and replace will pick up this mistake. And yes, it is a mistake.

The “- -” symbol actually does mean something. It is a “decrement operator“.

Remember, there are no spaces on either side of an em-dash. For more advice about proper em-dash usage see Grammar Girl’s article: When to Use—and Not Use—an Em-Dash.

NB: WordPress automatically converts the double hyphen to an em-dash so I have intentionally placed a space between the two while formatting this page.

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