Punctuating the Crisis
April 1, 2020 3:14 PM   Subscribe

A brilliant detective story, made all the more sweet by its origin in a Portobello discussion forum!
posted by cincinnatus c at 3:38 PM on April 1 [1 favorite]

The em dash illustrates proper social distancing. Somehow, typing Covid—19 just feels a whole lot safer.
posted by Text TK at 4:00 PM on April 1 [28 favorites]

Covidー19 you say?
IME's hell to welcome.
posted by zengargoyle at 4:06 PM on April 1 [1 favorite]

The em dash is a perennial favorite in the ad copy world. It's used so often that I know the quick-key combo by muscle memory.
posted by SoberHighland at 4:10 PM on April 1 [3 favorites]

It's pretty easy to produce a range of dashes on an iPhone by holding down the minus sign on the numeric keyboard: - – —

For some reason there's also a centred dot available on that key, which is at least visually identical to the one accessible from the shifted numeric keyboard: •_•

Just noticed that.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:29 PM on April 1 [2 favorites]

Covidー19 you say?

It's more    𝚊 𝚎 𝚜 𝚝 𝚑 𝚎 𝚝 𝚒 𝚌   when you type it that way.
posted by Foosnark at 4:32 PM on April 1 [4 favorites]

Nobody types them in.

Alt+0151 every day, motherfucker.
posted by The Tensor at 4:52 PM on April 1 [24 favorites]

In the comments, a correction about "an Unicode" vs. "a Unicode".

What if it really is un-i-code instead of youn-i-code?
posted by clawsoon at 4:54 PM on April 1 [10 favorites]

I type them — constantly
posted by OverlappingElvis at 4:55 PM on April 1 [2 favorites]

Yeah, who doesn't type them? Alt+0151 from my cold, dead numpad.
posted by penduluum at 5:16 PM on April 1 [3 favorites]

The real question is whether you use spaces or no spaces around your emdashes... I vote spaces for the record.
posted by elkerette at 5:20 PM on April 1 [5 favorites]

That web page looks like it is set in 1800s lead type. So kudos to them for that while complaining about em dashes!
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 5:22 PM on April 1

Single space, external to subordinate clause —like god intended.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:37 PM on April 1

Well ⸻ isn't that ⁓special⁓?

posted by scruss at 5:41 PM on April 1 [2 favorites]

Oh hell no.

I give a single space on both sides of the em dash — I don’t care if that’s correct style or not.
posted by darkstar at 5:58 PM on April 1 [3 favorites]

Anyone who looks through my comments on MetaFilter — not that anyone would have a reason to do that — would find that I use em-dashes frequently as well.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:19 PM on April 1 [4 favorites]

My enthusiasm for em dashes and parentheses is usually one of the first things that has to be brutally curbed when I'm revising an article...
posted by thomas j wise at 6:21 PM on April 1 [4 favorites]

spaces with em-dashes? you probably double space after a period, too.
posted by entropicamericana at 6:37 PM on April 1 [9 favorites]

Hey now - let's not get personal. Also I would use an underscore to better illustrate social distancing - like so - Covid_19.
posted by evilDoug at 6:48 PM on April 1 [2 favorites]

You know who else used spaces around em-dashes?

(probably people who put two spaces after periods.)
posted by sjswitzer at 7:24 PM on April 1 [1 favorite]

I could put two periods here in my typing all day here on MetaFilter and you'd never see them. There's a filter.

Also, I took touch typing for 3 semesters in junior high in the early 80s, two semesters on manual and one on Selectric, and two spaces is very very very hard-wired into my brain. Elite, or Courier? Ah, Selectrics.
posted by hippybear at 7:48 PM on April 1 [3 favorites]

I type en dashes – like this – all the time. It's just option+- on a Mac and looks much better than a hyphen. An em dash is just option+shift+-.

According to The Elements of Typographic Style, you use spaces – like this – around en dashes and no spaces—like this—around the longer em dashes. But either is fine.
posted by oulipian at 7:57 PM on April 1 [6 favorites]

Sure! Go ahead and just jam your text up against the em dash!

See where that gets you!
posted by darkstar at 7:59 PM on April 1 [3 favorites]

My keyboard has five keys that can be assigned to any symbol or series of keystrokes I want—one of them I assigned the em dash.
posted by one for the books at 8:15 PM on April 1 [3 favorites]

Em-dashers represent! My people!

Through my 16-year history on MetaFilter, I've gone through various phases of typographic practices, particularly with regard to the em-dash. I way way way overuse em-dashes because true parentheticals feel like whispering and I'm still not sure what is the conventional usage for an ellipsis pause. I just use the em-dash in both cases.

"My keyboard has five keys that can be assigned to any symbol or series of keystrokes I want—one of them I assigned the em dash."

Over the years I've created a number of custom Windows keyboards using Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator, chiefly to make the em-dash more accessible. The problem with this is that it's an invitation to map all sorts of other stuff in unicode to other key combinations. It's very tempting and that way madness lies, trust me.

Other times I've had muscle-memory Alt+0151, or programmed a custom key on a gaming keyboard, or even resorted to using Windows Character Map. I've even just googled and copy-pasted.

Now that I post so much with my phone, I use the long-press alternate of one of the keys.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:57 PM on April 1 [1 favorite]

All this emdashsmanship and no love for the KATAKANA-HIRAGANA PRO­LONGED SOUND MARK from the hashtag? Look at this bad boy, it's more than an em long!

posted by away for regrooving at 11:22 PM on April 1 [5 favorites]

Edinburgh is a city which makes a big deal about it's castle and rather less about being coastal. In fact, the people of its port, Leith, once voted overwhelmingly to become independent of their fort-loving counterparts. Portabello is Edinburgh's beach: a wind-blown melting pot of cafes, dog walkers and unusual goings on. I would recommend it, wholeheartedly, to visitors.

Twitter user @talkporty documents events to locals such as toad migrations, interesting manhole covers, the sound of local ukulele players at sunset, sofas available for re-use — and, yes, hashtags with mysterious Chōonpu characters infecting the world's pandemic chatter. It is , indeed, great, that they are bringing this issue to our attention. Would recommend.
posted by rongorongo at 12:15 AM on April 2 [4 favorites]

Because I am a old geek, my first post-college gig mostly involved VT220 terminals (or their Wyse equivalents). In the bottom left corner they had a dedicated Compose Character key. When I moved to the Windows NT 3.1 platform I couldn't stand being without it, so one of the early little tools I wrote and have dragged around every since, was replacement for it that borrows the left Ctrl key for that purpose. Ctrl+X is still a single modified keystroke, but Ctrl (pressed and released) followed by, e.g. m-, inserts a proper —, or e' for a é, or pi for a π. I probably should put it on Github or the like for other geeks, but it long predates Github. In any case, the rambling point is, Alt+0151 is for heathens, but of course you should type things that aren't on the keyboard. Get off my lawn.
posted by bcd at 12:56 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]

Out of consideration for people who get annoyed by two spaces after a period, I've switched to putting three spaces after each sentence.
posted by straight at 2:43 AM on April 2 [3 favorites]

I'll just stick to hyphens.
posted by pseudophile at 5:04 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]

I have serious misgivings about the typographic analysis of anyone who willfully hyphenates hashtag as hasht-ag.
posted by emelenjr at 5:24 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]

Don't double-space after periods. No, no. Instead, use the em quad space, as I have done here.
posted by clawsoon at 6:15 AM on April 2 [9 favorites]

Don't double-space after periods. No, no. Instead, use the em quad space, as I have done here.

LaTeX users know it well.

posted by snowmentality at 6:30 AM on April 2 [4 favorites]

Pro tip: you can get unlimited FREE em dashes from: emdash.fan.

(and if you're in Chicago, free Chicago stars ✶✶✶✶)
posted by colossal at 7:37 AM on April 2 [3 favorites]

Mdash — Shift + Opt + - or (x2 quickly) -
Ndash – Opt + -
On iPad or iPhone .?123 hold - for textual pop up and select
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 8:05 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]

 a dedicated Compose Character key

may I introduce WinCompose? It's rather good.
Even the lowliest Raspberry Pi supports a Compose key. Never could get the hang of the weird Mac system that's not quite as good.
posted by scruss at 2:04 PM on April 2

Shift-Option-K for life.
posted by emelenjr at 3:09 PM on April 2

I submitted a manuscript to a scientific journal a couple of years ago and the editor asked me to replace the en dashes with em dashes. I had no idea what that meant. None. I had to google it. Then I had to search my keyboard to try to find it. Then I had to google how to make one. Then my computer made one, but it looked funny. It was traumatic. I'm never doing that again.
posted by acrasis at 4:01 PM on April 2 [2 favorites]

Best management practices for dashes in plague times

Our friends the dashes:
Hyphen -
En dash –
Em dash —

How to use the dashes:
Hyphens are for compound adjectives.
En dashes are for ranges.
Em dashes are to fling into sentences willy nilly because you sortof think probably there should be an endstop somewhere but don't have a millisecond to do the thinking that would allow you to punctuate correctly because years of typing on the Internet have made you an undisciplined, low-talent Emily Dickinson, dash-addicted freak-O (ymmv, but this is what happened to me).


The six-foot social distance rule means that 5–7 people is about the maximum you can allow into this small venue—into which you have crammed, by last count, 25 people.
posted by Don Pepino at 4:23 AM on April 3 [10 favorites]

Let’s not forget the mathematical minus sign: 2 − 3 = −1. It should have the same width as +, and be vertically aligned with it, which is not necessarily the case for its cousin the en dash (or, heaven forbid, the hyphen).
posted by mubba at 8:00 AM on April 3 [3 favorites]

I've commented before that MetaFilter is clearly the place for me because people actually use en dashes and em dashes here. And now I learn other MeFites share my guilty pleasure — spaces around an em dash, style guides be damned.

mubba: have you noticed that the "remove favorite" character is not a dash, but a minus sign? I think that's pretty awesome.
posted by Tehhund at 12:24 PM on April 3 [7 favorites]

(BTW, it's not Metafilter that's filtering double-spaces after periods, it's HTML. You have to do extra work by inserting a non-standard space character to get double spaces after a period to show up in web pages and almost no one ever bothers.)
posted by Aleyn at 3:04 PM on April 3 [2 favorites]

Some WYSIWYG HTML widgets insert a non-breaking space character ( ) when you type a second space and that forces the apparently intended spacing but then leads to bad line-breaking behavior. Gmail used to do that (perhaps it still does?).
posted by sjswitzer at 3:34 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]

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