BEING THE BASICS, TO WHICH WE ALL MUST RETURN ON OCCASION
n. — a punctuation mark representing a pause or break in a sentence—esp. when calling attention to a specific thought or text
fm. English, as a typographical unit of measurement. The name and unit does not come from the width of the letter M, as is commonly believed, but rather the vertical length of a letterblock in traditional typesetting. An en dash is half that length.
The Germans are clearer about that origination, calling the marks geviertstrich and halbgeviertstrich, literally square stroke.
Now a television show of particular excellence and renown—in this author’s opinion, the best of all time—will tell you dashes are one of fourteen punctuation marks in “standard English grammar.”
That number is both true and arbitrary. It can be two things.
It depends entirely on how you group, say, dashes compared to hyphens or single and double quotation marks, which are used at different rates by British and American English writers. More to the point, what exactly is standard English grammar? The textbook definition—any variant of English accepted as a national form—proves standard English isn’t standard.
If the intention of punctuation is to clarify a written passage, why aren’t bullets and slashes on The West Wing‘s presidential list? And what about technology upping the use of the underscore or the at symbol? Particularly ripe for a future AOE entry: the trivia around logograms like said at symbol, which actually means “at the rate of,” or the ampersand, “and per se.”
Your native tongue. Who knew it was so complicated?
inspiration. just another day in the life of a copywriter