Emdashes—Modern Times Between the Lines

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Dash It All!

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But don’t use spaces around them, at least in my opinion (and in Chicago’s!). There’s a debate going on at Typophile about just this question. The consensus is “There is NO consensus,” but I like this tidy summary by contributor Michael Lewis (a seminarian, not surprisingly, given his reflexive and reflective turn to the canon):
AP style is to “put a space on both sides of a dash in all uses except the start of a paragraph [their version of a bulleted list] and sports agate summaries.” See “Punctuation” chapter.
Chicago style is not as explicit, but all the examples in the 15th ed. do not contain preceding or following spaces (e.g.: “It was a revival of the most potent image in modern democracy—the revolutionary idea.”). See sec. 6.87ff.
Strunk & White are not explicit either, but also do not include spaces (e.g.: “The rear axle began to make a noise—a grinding, chattering, teeth-gritting rasp.”). See sec. I.8.
Bringhurst recommends using en dashes set off with spaces: “Used as a phrase marker – thus – the en dash is set with a normal word space either side.” See sec. 5.2ff.
I don’t have MLA or APA style guides handy, but I’ll hunt around for ‘em — er, (bad) pun intended.
Also on Typophile, this discussion of whether cursive handwriting is going out the window. Do you still use it? Do kids still learn it? Whither cursive? (There’s a Nation cover hed for you; still got it!)


I learned cursive when I was about 5, so there’s something weirdly childish-feeling about using strict cursive for me now! After years of studying calligraphy to exhaustion as a teenager, I use my own personalized version of cursive now. It’s not particularly pretty, but it’s readable and not child-like, which is good enough for me!

I do sometimes find myself very drawn to old letters written in cursive. My theory is that it must have been easier to write with quills and fountain pens in cursive, because of the resistance in the nib. These days, with ball point pens, we can write vertically with ease.

Most cartoonists use block letters in their work, in case you were curious. I was told as much when I started submitting, and have conformed willingly. One wants a caption to be easily read by one’s editor, after all.

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