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October 14, 2007


In high school, the faculty advisor to the literary magazine would make me and the rest of the staff meticulously replace every word-processor-generated emdash with two hyphens. It was infuriating.

You and I part ways on the spaces, though.

Per Chicago it's spaces for en dashes, no spaces for em dashes. Sound style advice there.

Also: my college newsrag had it in the style guide that "motherfucker" was to written as such (not as two words).

Earlier today I had occasion to comment to myself as I was reading a book by a well-known blogger that having only the merest space on either side of an em dash is fitting and meet.

The occasion was seeing a d, followed by a hair's space, followed by an em dash, and then a c. There may have been a small space between the dash and the c; I'm not sure. It was just as it should have been. "d—c". Tom, you smoke crack for breakfast.

On the other hand--and I do hate to be contrary, so excuse, at least, the double dashes on either end of this aside, which only indicate that I have not figured out how to properly em-dash (a verb) on this fucking Mac keyboard--I wonder whether you are ever made uncomfortable, aghast, etc. by in the incorrect placement of punctuation inside/outside of quotation marks! I am made uncomfortable but rarely made aghast. Then again, I am a copy editor, which is really just a kind term for "bitch," and we all know that people of this kind rarely ever feel strong emotions, not having any.

In HTML contexts you can effect en or em dashes thusly: – or —.

I actually have extremely strongly held and rather heterodox views on punctuation and quotation marks which I've attempted to disseminate in various places about the internet. Basically, nothing that's inside quotation marks punctuationwise counts as determining anything punctuationwise outside, and nothing should be inside the quotation marks that's not actually supposed to be attributed to the quoted entity. This commits me (as has been pointed out) to saying things like the following are correct:

It has been pointed out to Ben before that his view commits him to saying things like "She said, 'Punctuation marks go inside quotes.'.". But he doesn't care. I admire that.
But I don't care. I admire that. (I sometimes make exceptions for aesthetic reasons, I confess.)

For instance, I would say that you should have written “really just a kind term for ‘bitch’,”. It just now occurred to me to check whether my punctuational proclivities on on display in the post itself, and I see that they are. I hope I am not making you too uncomfortable, but really, this is one area where style guides just get it wrong across the board.

Perhaps! But whether they get it wrong or not, style guides are there for a reason. What would you say, for example, if you were working on a collaborative book with another author, and your style was inconsistent with his because he wrote according to a style guide like CMS? Would you prefer to be right rather than to have the product be consistently punctuated? I am prepared to be trounced here, since you are a Philosopher and I know you all operate with Reason--something we writers are known to lack. But I have "CMS" tattooed above my left buttock. Yeah, with the quotation marks! That's what happens to you when you become a copy editor: You get inked. (Grimacing at own remark.)

Obviously, the solution here is to be right and to have the book consistently punctuated, by bending my coauthor's will to my own.

I would, it's true, prefer consistent punctuation to assy obstinacy. But I wouldn't like it.

And, undoubtedly, by bending the entire house style of your publisher to your will, too!

I am pleased that you have used the word "assy." All is righted.

I would have it in my contract that I (and my coauthor, if necessary) got final say over style matters, since it worked so well for Helen DeWitt.

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