Is the Em-dash the Flirty Schoolgirl of Punctuation?

My business partner often makes fun of me for my devotion to the parenthetical remark. (But I can’t stop! They’re just so fun to use.) After reading a recent article on entitled “The Case — Please Hear Me Out — Against the Em Dash” by Noreen Malone, it has become clear that if punctuation were in junior high, the em-dash would totally be the parenthetical’s best friend. You can just imagine them giggling as they offer hushed asides about cute boys, mean girls and stupid math teachers.

Sure, I agree with the writer’s point that modern prose — and modern life, for that matter — doesn’t need any more interruptions. Really, I do. But I think she is forgetting phentermine med that so much of life — especially if you are writing a corporate website about technology, say — is just so.darn.boring. In my opinion, em-dashes and parentheticals breathe a little life — a playful subversiveness — into our grammatically bland world of periods, commas and the snoozer of them all — semicolons!

Yes, they can be overused — how many interruptions can one writer stand? Yes, they can be a crutch — just write a clear, concise sentence already! But for now — sorry, Noreen — I’m going to keep using them. (And we are totally not sitting with you at lunch!)

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5 replies
  1. Michael Blumfield says:

    Have to agree with your defense of the em dash. Used properly, em dashes keep the writing moving along, unlike, say, the fussy, look-at-me! semi-colon. (And yes, I do know how to use one and don’t confuse that Mr. Fancy Pants punctuation mark with the underappreciated and misunderstood comma or the slightly upscale colon.) When I was a journalist, everybody I worked with was good friends with the em dash. In corporate communication, I sometimes have to convince others that they won’t lose sales by letting an em dash show up in a publication (usually the same people who are horrified by starting a sentence with a conjunction, apparently traumatized by their fifth-grade English teachers).

    • Michael Blumfield says:

      That’s purely a style choice among publications. Some insist on spaces before and after, some insist on not having spaces before and after. Just having rules for when to use an em dash, an en dash and a hyphen is a major plus for any group that takes on the job of writing for publication.

  2. Mike Miller says:

    I agree!  I use dashes (as well as parentheses) quite often – sometime with commas and sometimes without – but always to make an important clarification or expansion on whatever point I’m making.  This is especially true in emails, where run-on sentences are too often the norm (much to the bane of intelligent readers – and those favor Hemingwayesque writing).  But I digress – or do I diverge? – whatever the case may be you’ve made a good case for…….. something.  Now what do you think about the use of ………………..?

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