In all of my recent writing adventures that I have embarked on, my favorite punctuation mark, at least for journaling, has been the dash. In fact, you could easily say that I have been dash-happy.
Journaling is such a thought driven process that it seems that the dash really comes in useful. I would be writing away and suddenly a related but semi-off-topic thought would occur to me. I would quickly add in a dash– just so my thought would have a safe place to live– and continue with my previously incomplete thought.
So, with all these dashes popping up in my writing, I started thinking about how I use them and whether or not I am using them correctly. This may seem crazy to you, but just because I am an English teacher does not mean that I have Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style memorized. I did what I often do in these situations– I looked it up.
Some things you might find interesting:
–William Caxton, the first printer of books in English, only used three types of punctuation: the slash (/) to show words that went together, the colon (:) to show a pause, and the period (.) to show a much longer pause.
— Originally, punctuation was all about pause of breath and was not considered integral to the syntax of a sentence until much later.
— For something irrelevant to this post that might represent a future post, the question mark was originally called a note of interrogation. I see it as the Sherlock Holmes of punctuation.
–Aside from the hyphen, there are two types of dashes: the Em Dash and the En Dash. This refers to the length of the dash. The En Dash is used between dates, while the Em Dash is used within sentences to show shifts in topic.
Those previously mentioned Strunk and White masters of grammar say that “A dash is a mark of separation stronger than a comma, less formal than a colon, and more relaxed than parenthesis.” It seems my mental idea of what a dash should do has been mostly correct, even if a little overused.
Here is my advice on how to correctly implement the dash into your writing.
1. A dash should always be two clicks of the keyboard (a hyphen is one).
2. Use the dash for emphasis.
ex. An archeologist–of course I don’t mean you–is a person whose career lies in ruins. (hehe)
3. If you begin with a list of things before summarizing them, use the dash.
ex. Running, reading, writing, just the act of being quiet–my sanity depends on them all.
4. In order to avoid becoming dash-happy: if a comma can do the work for you, let it.