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We Interrupt This Sentence–

This is a few weeks old, but check out this good, and funny, piece by Noreen Malone on the “em-dash” over at Slate:

The problem with the dash—as you may have noticed!—is that it discourages truly efficient writing. It also—and this might be its worst sin—disrupts the flow of a sentence. Don’t you find it annoying—and you can tell me if you do, I won’t be hurt—when a writer inserts a thought into the midst of another one that’s not yet complete? Strunk and White—who must always be mentioned in articles such as this one—counsel against overusing the dash as well: “Use a dash only when a more common mark of punctuation seems inadequate.” Who are we, we modern writers, to pass judgment—and with such shocking frequency—on these more simple forms of punctuation—the workmanlike comma, the stalwart colon, the taken-for-granted period? (One colleague—arguing strenuously that certain occasions call for the dash instead of other punctuation, for purposes of tone—told me he thinks of the parenthesis as a whisper, and the dash as a way of calling attention to a phrase. As for what I think of his observation—well, consider how I have chosen to offset it.)


1 thelarmis   ~  Jun 20, 2011 2:08 pm

fuck, i *love* the dash. seriously, i do. i use 'em a lot and on purpose! oh well. i'll continue to do so...

2 Alex Belth   ~  Jun 20, 2011 2:14 pm

I use them too but the author's point is well-taken, the em-dash is often used because writer's get lazy.

3 Bronx Boy in NC   ~  Jun 20, 2011 2:19 pm

Once I've completed a first draft of something, I go back and spell-check, hunt down inadvertent passives, and rewrite to remove half the em-dashes. Definitely a crutch.

4 RIYank   ~  Jun 20, 2011 2:31 pm

Yeah, I'm with Alex. I use them too, but I have to agree that it's a sign of laziness and the sentence can generally be written better without them. A 'crutch' is a good word for it, Bronx Boy.

5 Alex Belth   ~  Jun 20, 2011 2:35 pm

3 and 4) Agreed. I use them without thought but after reading this piece I have challenged myself to use them sparingly. Hey, not everyone is Fitzgerald, who uses them beautifully in "Gatsby."

6 Just Fair   ~  Jun 20, 2011 2:36 pm

I never know where to put a dash at. ; )

7 RIYank   ~  Jun 20, 2011 2:39 pm

[6] Oh, monkeypants will tell you where they should be put. ;-)

8 thelarmis   ~  Jun 20, 2011 2:46 pm

NOT lazy!!! i still like 'em. harrumph.

hey, why is it called an "em-dash". never hoid that before...

in all honesty, i do find the dash to be effective and not disruptive.

9 briang   ~  Jun 20, 2011 2:58 pm

i like me some elipses.........

10 thelarmis   ~  Jun 20, 2011 3:06 pm

[9] yeah, me too...

a dash of ellipses does a writing good!

11 RIYank   ~  Jun 20, 2011 3:33 pm

It's an "em dash" because it is the width of an em. That is, the width of 'm', originally. (Now defined as 9 points.)

12 rbj   ~  Jun 20, 2011 3:48 pm

In grade school, I constantly used commas, it took a lot of work, to cut down, on my use of commas.

13 ColoYank   ~  Jun 20, 2011 4:20 pm

Dang. I thought it might be called the em-dash in honor of its most distinguished and prolific user, the nonetheless divine Miss Emily Dickinson.

14 MDF   ~  Jun 20, 2011 5:20 pm

The problem with the writing here isn't the dashes -- it's the parentheticals.

15 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Jun 20, 2011 7:10 pm

I prefer parenthetical thoughts, myself.

I find it very challenging indeed to express myself without them (when I have anything worth expressing, of course).

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