Dash It All

Posted by Erich Shelton on Sunday, July 17, 2011 Under: Educational
“Oh, dash it all”, sounds very British doesn't it? Well to be honest I'm sick of it all. Everywhere I turn I see the dash in the most unnatural of places and it drives me batty. Why can't the the most advanced of all living species get this right? Why is it so difficult to understand? Do they not teach this in elementary school?

  • THE HYPHEN (-) is a short little thing and should be very sparingly. It is used to combine compound words together and too often at the end of a line in a paragraph. This is it. If you find it elsewhere it is an imposter and should be tossed out. If you don't know what a compound word is, then look it up!

  • THE MINUS SIGN (–) is slightly longer than the hyphen, usually the same length as the en dash, which we'll get to in a moment. The minus sign is usually designed to be the same length as the plus and equals signs. In most fonts these are usually monospaced along with the numbers for ease when being used in tabular formats. Even if you are mathematically challenged, like myself, there is still no excuse for using the hyphen in it's place.

  • THE EN DASH (–) gets its name because it is approximately the width of the capital N in any particular font. Use the en dash when indicating duration, such as when you could substitute the word "to." You can set the en dash with a little space on either side if you wish, but do not use a full space. It makes you look more ignorant than you may be. (What am I talking about, you've been using the hyphen all these years) For example: Use the en dash from 9–5 when you are at work.

  • THE EM DASH (—) gets its name because it is approximately the width of the capital M in any particular font. You probably already figured this out, if you have read this far. As a rule, the em dash is twice as long as the en dash. The em dash is used in much the same way a colon or set of parentheses is used—it can show an abrupt change in thought or be used where a period is too strong and a comma too weak. An em dash should never be used with spaces on either side although, clearly, many people are unaware of this rule as well.

  • THE MACRON (ˉ) is a diacritic used to mark long vowels in many languages such as Latvian, Lithuanian, Hausa and Fijian, among others. The macron is also necessary for Romanized Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, Japanese and Sanskrit. This dash, if you can call it a dash, is usually placed in the font to hang above a lower case letter. If you ever need to use a macron, you may need to do some special kerning and baseline shifting to position it correctly. However, since most Americans fail to speak proper English this is used very seldom, if ever.

  • THE UNDERSCORE (_) is another diacritic required for many African and Native American languages. It is also useful for some purposes in English and is becoming fairly common in e-mail addresses. The underscore is sometimes used as an underdot in romanized Arabic and Hebrew. You may never have a need to use this dash for underlining because most text applications have a built-in underscore feature. The problem with this is that people tend to use this to emphasize their message, which not only makes it look like a hyperlink, but makes them appear stupid. There is no need to use it in normal conversation.

Okay, you might say, but how do I find these? Well…I'm so glad you asked.

Now that you have been truly educated, please try to follow the basic rules. Life will be much better for all of us. Thanks!

In : Educational 

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Me, Who Else?

Erich Shelton I am a retired adjunct professor from the University of Southern Indiana, located in Evansville. My favourite subjects to teach are obviously ‘Typography’ as well as ‘Graphic Design History’, 'Senior Seminar' and ‘Computer Illustration.’