Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What about the em dash?

Fun poetry group last night. Poems about beach stones, home remodeling ("there is no poetry in sheetrock"), the history of tulips, a husband's autopsy, anorexia ("Perfection"), and winter pears ("squat and hippy"). Great discussion and camaraderie.

One question that came up was the use of the em dash — . I know some manuals of style say no spaces before and after; while other manuals of style say yes to spaces before and after. Some people seem pretty militant about it, while others say "it depends." A little research this morning reveals there is a lot of variation. But it seems using the spaces may be winning out over time, as computer-based type-setting machines (as opposed to old hand-set print) need to "see" the spaces, or they will think the two words and the em dash in between them are all one word, and will not break the phrase over two lines when it runs over the right margin.

How do you vote on the em dash? Do you care? Spaces before and after? Or not?

*

Home sick today. A bad cold. I think I'll curl up on the sofa and finish reading the Alvarez novel.

17 comments:

Diane K. Martin said...

I've gone back and forth on with or without spaces, but certainly the em dash is getting to be my favorite punctuation -- closely followed by the not generally well-regarded ellipsis....

Ah, I could write an essay on the dash and the ellipsis, how they reflect our times. But don't worry, I won't.

Peter said...

D: Yes, the — and . . . are a sign of the times aren't they? Perhaps also the () and the &, and the $%#*&^(@. hehehe

jeannine said...

Glenn militantly edits my poem manuscripts (he does my last copyedits before I send them out) to have no spaces before or after the em-dash, which I use frequently. But to me, it looks better with spaces.
Hope you feel better soon!

Charles said...

If you construct an em dash out of hyphens ("--") you should probably use spaces for clarity's sake. I think that's a manuscript/typewriter convention.

But if you know the keystroke to make it appear ("—"), I believe no spaces is the preferred method.

Collin said...

Space before and after always. It drives me crazy otherwise. And that's not a far drive. :)

C. Dale said...

I always think the space before and after an em dash looks weird! I never use them. But as Charlie says, if you are using -- instead of — then the space seems necessary.

Ginger Heatter said...

To my eye the spaces look cleaner, particularly in poems, and particularly at the ends of lines. In prose, where they're less often used as substitutes for commas or periods, I tend to go spaceless.

Peter said...

I agree that it often looks cleaner with the spaces added, but it really depends upon the font. Some fonts tend to jam the words up so close to the em dash that they actually touch on each side of it, almost like a ligature. It makes it look too tight, and hard to read, to my eye.

Anne said...

I think it usually looks better with spaces. But I also dress funny and my socks don't always match, so one probably shouldn't rely upon what looks good to my crooked little eye.

:)

Radish King said...

I use spaces because my words are so beeeoootiful and I don't want to mess em up with a bunch of lines hanging of them and stuff.

Anonymous said...

P.S. Hope you feel better soon!

Anne said...

WHOOPS! That was me, not logged in. Good grief.

Montgomery Maxton said...

Feel better soon, Peter.

aka Leonardo Likes Gulls said...

Without spaces. Always. *Love* the em dash. Remember when they were the big no-no. As if we were all little Emily's typing about bees and death.

Hope you feel better!

Kel

Nick said...

Hope you're feeling better.

Oliver de la Paz said...

I'm pretty anal about em dashes and elipses. I don't like spaces before and after the "--" because they seem unnecessary to me. Also, for elipses, I always put one space before the first "." and between each "." there's a space. And there can't be more than three periods: . . .

Bill Gates has this annoying thingy called "Auto-Correct" on MS Word which automatically changes my "--" to the longer single line (how did you type that, C.Dale?). In order to get it to work, you can't have spaces between the words you're connecting with the em dash. I, of course, turn that function off.

Tony said...

looks better without spaces. definitely.