In which I get my em dash nerd on…Posted: July 16, 2010
There are two true loves in my life (yeah, family, blahblahblah…). One of these loves is being right. Being right, saying something that is no one can argue with, stating a statement (erm…) that is free from ambiguity and utterly, indubitably, absolutely RIGHT. Ok, that point has been driven home. The other love in my life is the em dash. Like everything good in this world it is has a use, a function. Furthermore, it looks good. It is, I would suggest (and remember, I am always right), the most stylish of all punctuation.
Here comes the science—in printing (see what I did there btw?), an “em” is a unit for measuring and estimating the amount of printed matter in a line or page. Bugger that . . . what I’m interested in (and, therefore, what EVERYONE should be interested in), is the em dash as used in all good chunks of narrative. When used appropriately, an em dash denotes a change in thought or tone.
My contention is that em dashes are the unicorn of the punctuation world. It is beautiful, like the unicorn. It is useful, like the unicorn . . . (ahem, as we know from Harry Potter, unicorn hair is used as the core of wands and as ultra strong rope-type stuff). It is also blooming mystical, like the unicorn. I was taught about em dashes in university while doing a publishing postgrad and still I had no idea. I therefore conclude (considering the fact that I am a fairly intelligent and tend to be quick on the uptake) that em dashes are something that cannot truly be appreciated until used. Until you are faced with a long page of legalese (blame the day job) that needs em dashes like fish need water, like girls need mascara, like flowers need the rain, you will never understand this wondrous symbol. So I learnt to use them. . . and to use an em dash is to love it.
One thing em dashes definitely are not are semicolons. Semicolons are used in lists. There is no beauty in the list, there is just dull monotony (note the obvious biase). Although I am open to opposed opinions from semicolon lovers…