Tuesday, July 4, 2017

M or N?

The teachers did not want to turn me into an Englishman after all. They hoped that I would become understandable—and therefore understood. And there went all my dream of doing with words what Pablo Picasso did with paint or what any number of jazz idols did with music. If I broke all the rules of punctuation, had words mean whatever I wanted them to mean, and strung them together higgledy-piggledy, I simply would not be understood. So you, too, had better avoid Picasso-style or jazz-style writing, if you have something worth saying and wish to be understood.

Kurt Vonnegut ~ Palm Sunday


I wish to contribute to the cause of effective communication so today’s topic will be the “dash”, as in hyphen, en, or em. There are other types of dashes, bless their hearts, but a short race, a pinch of seasoning, and an action whereby one object is stuck against another will not serve my stated purpose in this context. I am talking about punctuation.

A hyphen (-) is for compound words or adjectives.

 Example: Me-generation daffodils are proud of the narcissistic roots. They have never hidden their origin from pale brown-skinned bulbs.

The en-dash (­–) is for a range or span of numbers, to indicate connecting or conflicting adjectives, or for compound adjectives.

Example: As a result, the post me–generation daffodils are reaching maturity with a dearth of role models. All they see is it’s all about “me.” Although daffodils range from  5–80 centimeters tall, post me–generational daffodils all expect to reach of a height of at least seventy centimeters.

The em-dash (—) is the longest of the dashes and the most versatile. It can be used in place of a comma, a semicolon, a colon, or a period. Its purpose is to separate a word or phrase for emphasis. It also can be used in place of letters or words.

Example: The Tulip Act—the crowning achievement of the 1968 Bulb Conference—declared that all daffodils are narcissus, no matter what their bulb of origin or their subsequent height. Nevertheless, some of the taller daffodils insist to this day that only yellow daffodils are true jonquils—all others are JINOs. As a member of the Yellow-Only Society recently stated, “The JINOs are just a bunch of posies. All they know is d———g dirt.”


I hope this helps clear up any misunderstanding about the family of dashes. Like any family, they have their good times and bad—especially during the holidays, when the me-generation and the pre and post me–generations all gather together to celebrate their common heritage.

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