Em Dash In Ascii

Dear 82-44-94-49.cable.ubr04.croy.blueyonder.co.uk,

In your gnoming here, why are you replacing the common (North American standard, but used elsewhere) convention for a dash (the em dash, which is '--' or ' -- ' in ASCII) with the somewhat uncommon British not-quite-convention for a dash (the en dash surrounded by spaces, which is ' - ' in ASCII), while at the same time replacing British spellings with American spellings? This seems inconsistent.

I admit that I'm no more consistent -- I combine British spellings with "North American" dashes -- but North American dashes are common and accepted in British ASCII text. The "official" British dash (' - ') is rare and, in my opinion, more difficult to read. -- DaveVoorhis

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dash, RulesForUsingHyphensAndDashes

Spaces tend to improve readability. Using consecutive hyphens (for em-dash) without surrounding spaces produces an appearance which seems cramped, although probably not unduly so for those accustomed to it. I suspect the use in books and journals of a true em-dash without surrounding spaces is on the decline. On Wiki, a single hyphen (with a space on each side) suffices, and so applying OnceAndOnlyOnce suggests the use of a single hyphen except when signing (so that SignatureSurvey works). Since use of consecutive hyphens in lists has become customary on Wiki, I leave them in place. There are some pages where a non-ascii en-dash or em-dash appears, but some browsers don't support these, especially the em-dash, typically (and rather unhelpfully) replacing the dash with a question mark.

The issue isn't the spaces, nor is it non-ASCII en-dashes and em-dashes. The issue is precisely that stated above (two space-padded hyphens vs one space-padded hyphen) and nothing else. While I can appreciate the desire to ensure that SignatureSurvey works, I have to wonder whether anyone cares whether SignatureSurvey works or not. Personally, I find single-hyphen em-dash surrogates difficult to read, and I'm sometimes tempted to gnome the entirety of Wiki and replace every single-hyphen em-dash with the more-readable double-hyphen em-dash surrogate, but such gnoming would be inconsiderate, wouldn't it? -- DV

The double-hyphen em-dash is merely a stand-in for a true em-dash. Do you find a true em-dash difficult to read? If so, why? If not, why do you find a shorter version of it difficult to read?

I find a true em-dash easy to read. A double-hyphen em-dash surrogate is easy to read because it can't be confused with a hyphen -- hyphens are never conjoined except to simulate an em-dash. A single-hyphen em-dash surrogate looks like a hyphen because it is a hyphen. When it's used, my brain wants to treat the words before and after it as a hyphenated word. -- DV

Why is a true em-dash easy for you to read, when it's just an elongated hyphen? When a single hyphen is used as an em-dash surrogate, it is preceded and followed by a space, so it isn't just a hyphen and shouldn't readily be mistaken for one. What font are you using by default? Do you find programs awkward to read because a hyphen between variable names is used for subtraction rather than to form a hyphenated name?

The degree of elongation is crucial. A true em-dash is considerably longer than a hyphen. In some fonts, it is even longer than the width of the capital 'M' that gave the em-dash its name. The spaces around a single-hyphen em-dash surrogate contribute somewhat (though not enough) to distinguishing it from a hyphen, but obviously not to the same degree as a double-hyphen em-dash surrogate, for the reasons I noted above. The font I am using is a Times Roman equivalent under Linux. I do not find programs awkward to read, because the context is different. A hyphen in code is almost invariably a minus sign. A hyphen in written human language is a hyphen. -- DV

That depends on the language. In some older languages, especially COBOL (which was designed to be readable), most names are hyphenated in practice, and the occasional minus sign is accomplished using a hyphen surrounded by whitespace. You wrote earlier, "hyphens are never conjoined except to simulate an em-dash", but that isn't true in some modern programming languages. The brain is adaptable and should easily learn not to "recognize" a hyphen as a hyphen when it's surrounded by whitespace, but instead recognize it as a dash or, when appropriate, a minus sign. As a surrogate for an em-dash, consecutive hyphens look inelegant even when one's used to their being used in that way.

As I mentioned above, programming is a different context from human language, so my interpretation of symbols is different. I don't "read" a computer language the same way I read a human language. However, when hyphens are used in COBOL as part of identifiers, they are used as true hyphens -- just like written human language. As I recall, hyphens used as minus signs may only appear in the context of a COMPUTE verb and so are (relatively) easy to disambiguate.

In C-syntax derived languages, it is true that double hyphens are used to indicate (for example) decrement. When I wrote that "hyphens are never conjoined except to simulate an em-dash," it was prior to your mention of computer languages. I was referring only to written human language, not computer languages. However, a double-hyphen is clearly not a hyphen, whether in code or written human language.

Of course, the brain is adaptable, but interpretation of symbols seems to involve deeply ingrained responses. For example, a language-designer colleague of mine once pointed out that he finds the digraphs "<=" and ">=" deeply jarring when used as comparison operators. This is despite working with and specifying these digraphs throughout his lengthy career. He instinctively reads them as "less than and equals" and "greater than and equals," which are obviously meaningless. He'd prefer to specify the equivalent mathematical symbols, but until they're found on the average computer keyboard, he's stuck with the irritation of surrogates. -- DV

We clearly have the same problem with em-dashes here on Wiki. You wrote "consecutive hyphens look inelegant", so you obviously find double-hyphen em-dash surrogates jarring. As I've stated, I find the single-hyphen em-dash surrogate jarring. Rather than pollute Wiki by tweaking em-dash surrogates to alleviate our respective irritations, I'd like to suggest that we simply follow EarleMartin's suggestion (below) to not standardize punctuation, and leave them alone when we gnome. -- DV

Originally, I was doing that much of the time, but I found I was searching text for signatures quite often and being significantly delayed on some pages by the extensive use of "--" mid-sentence as a surrogate dash.

When you were searching for signatures, do you mean you were using the search facility? Or were you manually scanning the text? If the latter, of course it's a simple matter to look at the bottom of each paragraph! If it's the former, I'm forced to wonder why.

Also, there's an argument to be made that the " -- " as part of a signature is, in fact, a surrogate em-dash!

-- DV

I meant searching manually within the editing box. Although you have been talking about " -- " (in the main), many (possibly most) of the instances of "--" or "---" that I have changed have not had the surrounding spaces. I am not very keen on the use of em-dash in any publication; English doesn't really need it, and, especially when a really long dash is used, the result seems unattractive. I'd like the em-dash to be replaced eventually by the en-dash. It's unfortunate that en-dash has compatibility problems on Wiki (and most other wikis) and isn't available on the keyboard.

You claim that most of the em-dash surrogates you changed have not had the surrounding spaces. I beg to differ. As a RecentChangesJunkie, I've kept a close eye on changes here for almost a year. While you've certainly changed some "--" to " - ", and the occasional "---" to " - ", by far the majority of your changes appear to be from " -- " to " - ". That is why this page was created in the first place.

That's correct, but I changed more occurrences of "--" in earlier years. A long time elapsed before anyone (i.e., you) explained an opposing view.

Therefore, until such time as em or en dashes appear on keyboards and/or MinorEdits are restored, I'd like to suggest that both " -- " and " - " be considered correct, and not be changed from one to the other. -- DV

Voorhis, why do you converse with Blue Yonder about punctuation? Isn't it pointless? Isn't this person banned? Blue Yonder, despite/because of your relentless drive to fiddle with punctuation, aren't you supposed to be gone already? Stop it, both of you. And don't bother answering my questions. They're rhetorical. I'm going back to my hole now... -- Eliz

As it appears Blue Yonder is not banned, and is indeed operating under his/her/its original IP address, if he/she/it is going to be here a while I see no reason not to at least engage him/her/it in a pleasant discussion over an item of (apparently) mutual interest. Which is what we've been doing. -- DV
I got caught up in a mild argument about '--' and '-' dashes here about a year and a half ago until JoeWeaver brought up the question of what effect '--' might have on the SignatureSurvey. I don't think the question was resolved. See the SignatureSurvey page, if you're interested.

Meanwhile, I'll add to the present nitpickiness by stating that the "North American" non-wiki-signature em dash is not surrounded by spaces. Take it from a girl who had to take typing classes--and home economics--in school.

Meanwhile, meanwhile, I checked the signatures for EmDashInAscii from http:wikiSig?RecentChanges. Two S's show up: one for Dave's signature above and one for mine below. There are no additional S's for the extra double hyphens on the page. Conclusion: "North American" em dashes don't confuse the signature script. Come to think of it, they would if the em dash were preceded by a space then followed by a space and any WikiWord. Yet another reason for not surrounding non-wiki-signature em dashes with spaces. :-)

-- ElizabethWiethoff

I recently ran across a reference that indicated either ' -- ' or '--' were correct usage, but alas, when I need it the most, I can't find it. Therefore, for the moment I stand corrected. -- DaveVoorhis

What does SignatureSurvey say about a sentence -- perhaps this one -- that has spaces around the dashes? -- DV

Or, if I put dashes after a WikiWord -- like this -- or before a -- for example -- WikiWord, then what what happens? -- DV

I've made a new discovery. The em dash triggers an 'S' result in the SignatureSurvey if the dash is followed by a WikiWord, even without spaces. So, ignore my smiley "conclusion" above. Double hyphens appear to be ignored as long as they are not followed by a WikiWord (with or without spaces). Right now there are 5 S's: two for you, two for me, and one for your latter 'WikiWord'. Click on http:wikiSig?RecentChanges then look next to EmDashInAscii to see the results.--ElizabethWiethoff

And what is the conclusion you two draw out of this?

I conclude that I have found this exchange interesting, and the knowledge I have gained from it will stay with me always. -- DV

The "obvious" conclusion I draw is to encourage the use of ' - ' (instead of '--') Wiki-wide when writing and gnoming. But this rubs me the wrong way. First, it assumes that the SignatureSurvey script is useful to a significant number of people, and I'm not sure that it is. Second, this means gnoming to a strange combination of American spelling and UK punctuation. I conclude I'm glad I was able to diagnose a bit how the SignatureSurvey script works, but I draw no conclusions about how to standardize punctuation on the site. -- Eliz

ThankYou for the interview.

How about we just don't standardi[s|z]e punctuation at all? -- EarleMartin

I'm in favour of that. Furthermore, how about we don't standardi[z|s]e on British vs American spelling either, and leave alone that which is correct in either country? While I can appreciate that standardising on one or the other simplifies searching, I can't think of a scenario where *[s|z]* is likely to be part of a search term. How often do you search Wiki for "initialise?" ...Er, I mean, "initialize?" -- DaveVoorhis

Isn't that what usually occurs anyway? However, such use of "ise" is a spelling error in U.S. English, not "correct in either country". I'm not sure how often this particular matter has arisen when searching, but it has certainly done so when dealing with the spelling of certain pagenames.

Sorry, I was unclear. By "correct in either country", I meant correct in one country or the other. Literate Americans recognise that "recognise" is an accepted British spelling. As for the spelling of page names, there are 120+ pages (out of 30000+) where this is currently an issue. Hardly a significant number, so I would argue that chances of searching for "initiali[z|s]e" and the like is pretty slim. It would, however, be appropriate to edit a page name to follow American spelling conventions, but certainly not worth gnoming every alternative spelling in a quest for *[z|s]* "perfection". -- DV

I'm not sure what you mean by "is an issue". There are over 230 pages named using "z" where "s" would be possible (at least within British English), and about 3 pagenames (two of which are orphan redirects) using "s" "unnecessarily". I assume there are hundreds of other pages which link to the 230+ pages I just mentioned. On occasion, I have found (and changed) links which "failed" due to use of "s" instead of "z". Once or twice, I have had my own use of "ys" changed to "yz" by someone based in the USA. I assume that whoever did that was a literate American who would probably also prefer "iz" to "is" (where possible).

On that basis, I'll concede that editing page names to conform to American spelling is fine. However, I suggest that non-pagenames be left unchanged if they use British spelling, at least until MinorEdits is restored. This still permits freedom to improve Wiki, but myself and others won't have to closely eyeball every diff to see if there have been changes to content amid the unnecessary (desirable from your point of view, perhaps, but unnecessary) spelling and punctuation tweaks. -- DV

The particular changes we've been discussing are not usually the only ones made on a page, although other changes are often confined to changing other spelling or punctuation errors. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that MinorEdits will be restored. As I've mentioned elsewhere, I do attempt to reduce the impact on RecentChanges by doing certain changes at the weekend or in small batches at night rather than as soon as the errors are noticed. It's unfortunate that many people seem to make no checks on what they have just posted. Also, some lengthy discussions have involved people who write at length but are poor spellers. It might be useful to have more information about other people's preferences, but attempts to find out by asking people to express their views have failed due to lack of response by more than a very few individuals.


Found, if you will, at the ScienceFiction and Fantasy Writers of America web site: use '--', not ' -- ', for em dash. See the second black paragraph of the answer to "Q: So I should put that in the cover letter instead?" (http://www.sfwa.org/writing/faqs.htm).

On the other hand, a copy editor for The Washington Post newspaper prefers ' -- ' (http://www.theslot.com/hyphens.html):
Some publications use the traditionally correct method and do their dashes "tight" -- without the spaces on either side that I'm using here -- while others, bowing to the vagaries of computer typesetting, follow AP [Associated Press?] style and use the spaces. I would prefer that any copy editor who's going to work for me know AP style and follow it unless otherwise instructed, but I don't mind seeing "tight" dash style on a resume.

So it seems '--' is traditional, book style and ' -- ' is a style used by some newspapers.

Traditions do slowly change. I would suggest that those newspapers using the surrounding spaces do so because an improved appearance results. I am not surprised that some style manuals are promoting usage which has outlived its usefulness.
Until such day that this wiki allows input in TeX, perhaps we should accept that it will not be a typographical masterpiece. -- EarleMartin

I agree that this will never be a "typographical masterpiece". In that spirit, the persistent "corrections" of 82-44-94-98.cable.ubr04.croy.blueyonder.co.uk do, in fact, constitute a de facto denial-of-service attack, and vandalism as well. -- TomStambaugh

Perhaps it would be simpler for Wiki to be changed to support dashes better.

Perhaps it would be simpler for you to realise that it's not going to happen and that you should just stop. Why do you lack the social skills to understand this, you ChronicallyRight nerd?
Every time I see the title of this page, I can't help thinking of "Larks' Tongues In Aspic".
HyphensAreNotDashes
See also RulesForUsingHyphensAndDashes

MarchZeroSix

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