virtualDavis

ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs Serial storyteller, poetry pusher, digital doodler, flâneur.
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Hashing the En and Em Dash

N&M Dash (Doodle: virtualDavis)

If only en and em dash were melt-in-your-mouth candies…

While editing an article a couple of days ago I came across some en and em dash discrepancies that I wanted to iron out. I haven’t any cleverness to contribute to an already much hashed topic, but here’s a grab bag of grammatical (and computer) smartness to help sort out the whole dashing matter once and for all.

Dash Bashing

First let’s start with the detractors:

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. ~ Noreen Malone (Slate.com)

Yes. But since banishing unpreferred punctuation to another kingdom is goofy at best, let’s quickly flow into a clarification of proper hyphen, en dash and em dash usage.

But first an almost philosophical en and em dash rumination to fuel your cluttered ruminations.

Perhaps, in some way, the recent rise of the dash… is a reaction to our attention-deficit-disordered culture, in which we toggle between tabs and ideas and conversations all day… Why not try for clarity in our writing—if not our lives? ~ Noreen Malone (Slate.com)

En Dash vs Em Dash

Lest the above suggest a dismissive bias toward Noreen’s concerns, I’ll admit sharing some of her frustration.

I will admit that at least some of my bile comes from, as a copy editor, endlessly changing other writers’ sloppy em-dash simulacra (the double dash, the single offset dash) to the real thing. ~ Noreen Malone (Slate.com)

My reaction is less bilious, but (full disclosure) this sentiment was at the root of my recent en and em dash research. So let’s hustle on to the real thing.

I’ll pass the baton to Mark Jaquith who’s done an admirable job of laying out the whole dashing kit and caboodle. Read. Reread. Bookmark. Deploy!

  • An em-dash (—) is a wide dash — the width of the letter “m” being its guiding length. Em-dashes signify a thought break, rather like parenthesis, but with a stronger implied break.
  • An en-dash (–) is slightly shorter — the width of the letter “n” being its guiding length… The en-dash is used for:
    • Ranges of number values: (2–4 teaspoons, from 1:00–2:30pm, ages 7–10)
    • Relationships and connections: (a JFK–Atlanta flight, Bose–Einstein condensate, the Jackson–Murray fight, the Macy–Jaquith wedding)
    • Attributive compounds: (pre–Vietnam War weapons, the ex–Vice President non–New York style pizza) (via Mark on WordPress)

Nice, Mark. Thanks.

And what about spaces before and after dashes. I’ve seen this as a matter of preference (at least in the digital age), and I’ve leaned toward a space before and after both en dash and em dash punctuation, but it turns out I’m dashing on the wrong side of grammar, if not history.

Remember, though, that when using the hyphen, the en dash, or the em dash, you should put no space either before or after them. The only exception is with a hanging hyphen (see, for example, the word “nineteenth” in the phrase “nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature”). By definition, a hanging hyphen will have a space after it but not before it. (getitwriteonline.com)

Ah-ha! The en and em dash demystified. Except for deployment. How do we create these dashing distinctions with our keyboards?

How to En and Em Dash

The good news is that most of the software we use is going to make this easy for us. Which is good because producing proper dashes on our own can be a bit cumbersome.

Microsoft seems to automatically replace a double hyphen with an em dash. But maybe that’s a quirk of the Mac OS. Three consecutive hyphens just remain as three hyphens. Anybody able to help sort this out?

WordPress is pretty clever. It replaces two hyphens with en dash and three hyphens with em dash. Simple. Intuitive. Every time. I like that.

That said, I don’t actually use either of these shortcuts. Call it habit. Or muscle memory. Back to Mark for a clear explanation for how to create the proper dashes without the teamwork of Microsoft or WordPress.

If you want more control, then I suggest you do as I do, and actually start typing the correct dashes (WordPress won’t mess with them). On OS X, en-dashes are typed with Opt-{hyphen}, and em-dashes are typed with Opt-Shift-{hyphen}. In Windows, en-dashes are typed with Alt + 0150, and em-dashes are typed with Alt + 0151. (Mark on WordPress)

I’m mostly on Macs these days, and it’s become pretty much second nature. But the windows alternative is a little less intuitive for me. Not sure I’d get my fingers wrapped around that.

And for those who prefer to code directly in HTML (clever bastards!) you probably already know that the en dash is – and the em dash is —.

What did I miss?

[Special thanks to Katie for listening to me blather on ad nauseam about the en and em dash. And even make some mistakes along the way!]

Fortune Favors the Bold

“Audaces fortuna iuvat.”
(Fortune favors the bold.)
~ Virgil

Thanks to Jose L. Torres-Padilla (author of The Accidental Native) and Cerise Oberman (Distinguished Librarian) for inviting me to read poems from 40×41 to students and faculty at SUNY Plattsburgh last week as part of the Word Thursdays series held in Feinberg Library. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and especially appreciated the opportunity to meet with students after the reading.

Fortune Favors the Bold

Fortune favors the bold… (Virgil & virtualDavis)

In an effort to contextualize poems focused on midlife – probably not the most accessible theme for college students – I recounted a story from my undergraduate years at Georgetown University. I had become involved with The Georgetown Journal, an undergraduate literary and art magazine, and in my infinite wisdom/ignorance/hubris I organized a grand gala with a classmate to celebrate our spring issue. We planned a formal reading and art exhibition in the Intercultural Center followed by a banquet hosted by about a dozen Washington, DC restaurants. We invited writers and artists to participate. We convinced restaurants to donate their delicacies. We sent out press releases and printed elegant invitations with lofty fundraising aspirations. And then we went to the Georgetown University “media board” to ensure seamless cash flow until donations arrived.

No chance. The administrators and faculty on the committee were not happy that we have moved forward without first seeking permission. It hadn’t crossed our minds. Financial assistance was withheld and we were chastised for using the Georgetown University seal on our invitation without permission, but ultimately they let us go ahead.

Underpinning their total lack of support were two problems:

  1. We had proceeded without getting permission.
  2. Sports, not arts, drew crowds at Georgetown.

We were genuinely sorry to have made the first mistake. An act of omission, not commission. Or something. We were young. Eager. Hasty.

But the second problem, effectively the committee’s prophecy that we would fail because our classmates would not be interested in attending an arts and literature gala, rubbed us wrong. We were certain that they underestimated our peers, so we set out to prove them wrong. And we did. The gala was a huge success. For three years we surprised the committee, each year outperforming the previous year. After the first year, they backed us, and by my graduation many members of the committee personally applauded our efforts and offered to write recommendations for us.

That was a long time ago. But the lesson stuck with me. Fortune favors the bold. And this is what I hope the undergraduates too home with them.

Here’s a tidier anecdote that orders the same lesson in a 21st century context that the SUNY Plattsburgh students might relate to better.

Daniel Arnold had $90.03 in his bank account on Thursday when he had a clever idea: Why not sell some photos on Instagram? […] On the eve of his 34th birthday, Arnold didn’t have a clue how he was going to make rent for the following month, so, at midnight, he posted this message on Instagram:

“Hello, I just turned 34 this second. For one day only I am selling 4×6 prints of whatever you want from my Instagram archive for $150 each. I swear I will never sell anything this cheap again. If you’re interested, send a screenshot of the photo(s) of your choice to arnoldaniel@gmail.com (one d) and I will send a paypal invoice, followed by a signed print. Easy peasy. Happy my birthday. I love you”

The response overwhelmed him. Orders poured in. A day later, he’d received nearly $15,000 worth of requests, and collected some $5,000… (Forbes)

Bravo, Daniel Arnold. Fortune favors the bold. Be bold!

12 Years a Slave Wins Oscar

12 Years a Slave (doodle by virtualDavis)

12 Years a Slave (doodle by virtualDavis)

In a triumph long deferred, “12 Years a Slave” won the best picture Oscar at the 86th Academy Awards… “I’d like to thank this amazing story,” said Steve McQueen, the British-born filmmaker… “Everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live…” (NYTimes.com)

The endless Academy Awards ceremony defeated me before I could witness rightful victory, but this morning I awoke to discover the news emblazoned everywhere. 12 Years a Slave Wins Oscar. 12 Years a Slave Wins Oscar!

I was not in the least surprised that 12 Years a Slave took the coveted top trophy. In fact I would have been dismayed if it had been passed over. The storytelling and characters impacted me profoundly and enduringly.

The film is gripping and visceral… unfiltered and unforgiving. McQueen captures slavery in its least sympathetic and most complex iteration I can recall, plunging into it’s insidious, malignant effect, dehumanizing slave, master end every one in between. (I Want to Live: Praise for 12 Years a Slave)

Steve McQueen Does Not Win Oscar

12 Years a Slave wins Oscar, but the film’s Director does not. There’s inevitably some debate over whether or not Director Steve McQueen deserved to win Best Director which was instead awarded to Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity. I don’t know. There’s no question in my mind that 12 Years a Slave was a superior film, but how much of that credit is owed the director is an assessment that exceeds my knowledge or opinion.

Chiwetel Ejiofor Does Not Win Oscar

I am disappointed that Chiwetel Ejiofor did not receive and Oscar for Best Actor in a leading role for his riveting portrayal of Solomon Northup. Matthew McConaughey was excellent in Dallas Buyers Club, but Ejiofor transcended mere excellence. He embodied a character, an historic figure and history itself in a was that will remain etched into the psyche of everyone who watches the film. See why the Academy doesn’t ask me to weigh in? ;-)

Lupita Nyong’o Wins Oscar!

My disappointment that Chiwetel Ejiofor did not win an Oscar is partly tempered by the fact that Lupita Nyong’o won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She was outstanding, and she deserved to win. I can’t wait to see what film she transforms next.

 

Rabbit, Rabbit: Welcome to March

Rabbit, Rabbit: from doodle to superstition

Rabbit, Rabbit: from doodle to superstition

Rabbit, rabbit. I hope that March brings you plenty of good fortune.

Rabbit, rabbit? What?!?!

Growing up learned to say “Rabbit, rabbit,” first thing on the first day of each month for good luck. Before, “Good morning.” Or, “I’ll be right there…” If we could remember to say “Rabbit, rabbit” before we uttered anything else we could expect plenty of luck for a month.

It was easy to forget. It still is. But I still try to say it. And this morning, for the first time in quite a while, I remembered.

Odd Habits & Good Luck

I’ve acknowledge elsewhere that I grew up with an unusual menagerie of habits and superstitions.

We celebrated all sorts of holidays that my friends did not. Christmas, yes. But also Epiphany (Three Kings Day) and another near-to-Christmas night when we placed our shoes at the top of the stairs and St. Nick (I think) came and filled them with treats. Pistachios. Chocolates. Silver dollars.

Year round, while going to bed, we observed a few of the normal soporific mutterings like, “Night, night. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.” But we also had another odd pre-sleep utterance: “If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.” Why? No clue. But we said it. Sometimes I still do. Pity my perplexed but accepting bride.

There were other oddities too, in some cases a bit more embarrassing, like the fact that I grew up referring to a woman’s breasts as “boogens”. Why? No clue. Middle school locker room braggadocio quickly exposed my peculiarity.

I long assumed that our top o’the month “Rabbit, rabbit” was a similar entre nous oddity. Wrong. It turns out “Rabbit, rabbit” isn’t just a curious family tradition. It’s a curious [likely] British tradition that seems to have colonized most of the English speaking world like tennis, gin and preposterously poor second language skills.

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbits…

NPR’s Rachel Martin interviewed Martha Barnette (host of A Way with Words) on December 01, 2013:

MARTIN: This is the hard thing, right? Like, you’re supposed to wake up first thing and the first thing out of your mouth on the first day of the month has to be rabbit, rabbit. And then you’re lucky for the rest of the month?
BARNETTE: Exactly, yes. That ensures luck. And we don’t know why, you know, rabbits have been associated with luck of one sort or another – usually good luck – for more than 2,000 years. But it’s only in the early 1900s that we see written references to this superstition. (NPR)

According to the collective wisdom of Wikipedia, the origins of the “Rabbit, rabbit” tradition are British and showed up early in the 20th century. Not much additional clarity is offered but a few interesting references are dished up for you curiosity.

Mad as a March Hare?

The White Rabbit

The White Rabbit (Wikipedia)

Update: A couple of quick quips from readers raise the inevitable question, “Have I gone as mad as a March hare?” From rabbits to boogens to an unfair dig at English linguistic limitations, I seem to have plunged into March with the reckless abandon of Lewis Carroll’s second most memorable character in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

“Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
“I’ve had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone, “so I can’t take more.”
“You mean you can’t take less,” said the Hatter: “it’s very easy to take more than nothing.”
“Nobody asked your opinion,” said Alice. ~ Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Nobody asked mine either, I suppose. And I am swerving erratically, brainlessly.

Thanne þey begyn to swere and to stare, And be as braynles as a Marshe hare
(Then they begin to swerve and to stare, And be as brainless as a March hare)
 ~ Blowbol’s Test, c. 1500

Rabbit, rabbit! Take some more tea?

 

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