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The joy of a spaced en dash
A while back I said that "if God had intended for us to use em dashes, he would have included it on the QWERTY keyboard".

And up until that point, I was happy with using hyphens as dashes. But times are changing.

I still hate the em dash. It's ugly! It's typically bunched up next to the words it separates and it's too long to use with spaces. Another thing I dislike is the silly idea of using two hyphens as a dash – just use a single hyphen! But the en dash – now that's a different story.

The turning point was looking at some Australian style guides after listening to a Grammar Girl episode about dashes. I was pleased to discover that in Australia, preferred usage is often a spaced en dash (" – ") rather than an em dash ("—").

So, now I concede that the hyphen is a little short and that it is worth using an en dash instead. It helps that it's pretty easy to type... on a Mac (Option-hyphen).

But what the hell is up with Windows? You're seriously telling me that I need to remember a code (Alt-0150) and that it will only work when I'm sitting at a keyboard that has a numeric keypad? Given how frequently dashes are used in writing (even if most of us just use a hyphen or rely on a word processor to do substitution), you'd think there'd be some quick and memorable keyboard shortcut.

So there you have it. I've been converted on the en dash issue, and I'm even considering moving from "eg." (my personal yet wrong preference) to "e.g." (which is correct, but looks long and ugly to me). But don't hold your breath waiting for me to use an ellipsis character instead of three periods. Or to start using proper quotation marks. That's just taking things too far.

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The way I was taught in editing classes: em dash for pauses in sentences (no spacing); en dash, spaced, for numeric seperations (not so sure on the spacing but i think thats right), and hyphens are only for hypenated words, never use them as em dashes!

I'm used to it though, I make an auto-replace so -- converts to an em.

Not using hyphens as dashes may be a hard and fast rule, but the choice between en and em dashes is a style issue. And my house style is to use the spaced en dash. ;-)

I tend not to use auto-correction in word processors; perhaps I'm just a bit old school. And I tend not to use word processes for everything, hence my complaint that there's no universal keystroke. What about when I'm using my text editor, browser or email client? Or web-based apps like Google Docs?

Yeah that thought occurred to me, obviously only word processors will really fix it up for you, but tbh for me it's the only place I'd be fussy enough to use M dashes anyway (essays and formatted short stories). That and possibly in HTML code - which I have to code in anyway so I might as well just pop the 0151 or whatever it was, in.

Browsers these days handle UTF-8 pretty well, so I tend to not bother with character entities (e.g. –) and just enter in the – directly.

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