Oh, Em Dash! How I Love Thee

Confession: I am not a professional writer.

Okay, so I have a book blog, and I wrote a yet-to-be-published book. And my #dayjobs have required a good bit of writing. But I’m not a journalist who is subjected to professional editing on a regular basis, who lives and dies by The Chicago Manual of Style (note to self: buy The Chicago Manual of Style).

You can imagine, as someone who dabbles in writing, how eager I was to learn from an actual professional writer—a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, no less! I had such an opportunity a few #dayjobs ago, when @byjessekatz became a co-worker (insert blown-mind emoji!) and graciously taught the rest of us a few lessons on writing.

The teaching was good, so good, the kind where you learn something you can actually use. It was after one of Jesse’s lessons that my love for the em dash began.

The em dash is like a solid double hyphen that you use in place of commas, colons, and parentheses. It’s this: —

Sometimes people use a double hyphen (or—good grief—a single hyphen), when they should use an em dash. Sometimes people newspapers and AP Style followers leave space on either end of the em dash {shudder}, but normally there are not spaces. The em dash likes to touch.

The em dash also plays hard to get. It’s not a symbol on your keyboard. You have to >Insert< an em dash as a “special character.” Because, you know, it’s SPECIAL.

You might also be familiar with the em dash’s shorter cousin, the en dash. The en dash is cool too, I suppose, like, 3 p.m.–4 p.m. on February 30. It just doesn’t catch my eye in quite the same way.

But, oh, the em dash. There is something really satisfying about inserting an em dash into my writing. I must admit it has turned me into something of a snob. My face gets all scrunchy when I see writing that denies the em dash its rightful place.

Am I alone in geeking out over punctuation? Surely there is one among you, my faithful 10 followers, who drinketh from this cup?

Rather than correcting anyone who is gracious enough to share their writing with others, I wrote an ode to the em dash. I hope it inspires you to love the em dash as well—forever.

Ode to the Em Dash

Oh, em dash! How I love thee

You connect thoughts, like commas,

only with more pause

You aid readability,

add emphasis,

inject informality—all

with the heft of a solid line

Solidly, even when some


mock you with a

dash dash

To them, I say,

keep your dash,

your compounding hyphen!

I will love my em dash

with a solid line of


Titles Mentioned

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