The Endangered Em Dash—And How You Can Help Save It.

I know it’s not nice to pick favorites, but I have. The em dash ( — ) is by far my all-time favorite piece of punctuation. It’sTwo palms of hand with the world painted on them; text at top "Save the Em Dash" versatile, adds more emphasis than parentheses and commas, and (when not overused) provides clarity and an unencumbered reading experience.

 

I revere the em dash.

 

But people are dissing it. I’m seeing more and more blog posts with two double dashes (–) as a substitute for the em dash.

 

Enough already. The em dash deserves better than that.

 

But I—sort of—understand why bloggers are doing it.

 

Adding an Em Dash Requires Effort—But So What?

 

My guess is the em dash-dissing writers are typing their posts in Google Docs or some other online word processing tool, maybe even directly in WordPress. To add a proper em dash, they would need to use the “insert symbol” function and select em dash from the available options. Unlike MS Word, those platforms don’t recognize double dashes following a letter plus a space as the signal to automatically add an em dash.

 

I understand that can be pain in the @$#. I create my drafts in Google Docs and find it annoying to have to go through the manual process of hand-picking the em dash from the special characters menu whenever I want to add one. But if that’s what it takes to add an em dash, I’m willing to do it.

 

However, not everyone shares my enthusiasm for the em dash. Fortunately for those folks, there’s an easier way.

 

The Less Cumbersome Way to Add an Em Dash in Google Docs

By going to the Tools menu and selecting Preferences, you can set up a “substitution” so that when you type a predefined letter or character combination, Google Docs will automatically substitute it with an em dash.

Drop down menu to find Preferences in Google Docs

In my Preferences, I’ve set up ++ to automatically change to an em dash. It’s less cumbersome than manually inserting the em dash symbol.

Preferences settings in Google Docs

 

It’s not without some inconvenience, though. Google Docs doesn’t recognize that it should substitute an em dash if there is a letter or character directly behind the ++. So, it requires going back to delete that unwanted space after the em dash (and to do that, you need to forward delete not backspace; otherwise, your em dash will revert to ++).  Still, I’ve found it an efficiency improvement.

You can do the same for en dashes, too. I’ve set up my preferences to make -+ become an en dash.

 

You might be thinking, “Why didn’t she use — or — as the en and em dash cues?” I admit, that does seem more logical. However, that works only if you have just an em dash preference set up. Unfortunately, things go awry when you set up both an en dash and em dash. Google Docs appears to get confused in that situation. The en dash will work just fine, but the em dash shows up as an en dash plus a single dash. Weird, I know. Anyways, because I want substitutions for both, I use -+ and ++ instead.

 

Long Live the Em Dash

Try this tip and spread the word to other bloggers who have been contributing to the demise of the em dash.

Your turn: What’s your favorite punctuation mark or punctuation pet peeve?

 

Four Must-Haves Solopreneurs Need But Don’t Know It

Now That Makes A Difference text on purple and white background

When you start out as a solopreneur, you know you need the usual business essentials to operate professionally: computer, phone, printer, Internet, paper, and so on and so forth. Now in my eighth year of self-employment, I’ve discovered other assets I originally didn’t realize could be so important. Slightly obscure, they might have fallen below your radar, too.

 

Four Business Essentials You Might Not Realize You Need

 

  • A really good umbrella

By all accounts, I’m blessed. Our family has the good fortune to be financially secure; we have what we need and can (within reason) get what we want. BUT we have the most pathetic umbrellas at our house. There’s only one that I’m not mortified to use in public. The others are obnoxious red and white umbrellas the telecom company I once worked for offered as promotional freebies for its now non-existent Internet service provider division. After a recent rainy spell here in eastern Pennsylvania (during which my 9th-grade daughter forgot our only respectable umbrella in her locker at school), I realized I should invest in several more decent umbrellas. It’s a matter of pride—and professional appearance. Own umbrellas that won’t make you look and feel like a panhandler.

 

  • Kick-@s$ closet hangers

Upon launching my freelance business in 2010, I quickly learned being organized personally helps keep all professional endeavors in order, too. What I didn’t realize, however, is how much of a difference a well-designed hanger can make. Fortunately, a colleague recently introduced me to Joy Mangano Huggable Hangers. No more jungle of jumbled wire and bulky plastic hangers that crowd our limited space and let my outfits slip to the floor. I’ve replaced all hangers in our bedroom walk-in closet and my daughter’s closet with these gems, and I’m in the process of swapping out every last hanger in our entire house with them.

 

I’m obsessed.

With more free space in my closet, I can find what I want to wear more easily, and my clothes don’t get wrinkly while hanging. These hangers have saved me time and made it much easier to get out the door on time for meetings. If you have a closet that needs a revamp, definitely check them out.

 

  • A spritz of confidence

Nobody wants to think about this, and I can hardly believe I’m writing about it, but here it “goes.” When you’re on the go and have to go, Poo-Pourri lets you do it in stealth mode. I bought a bottle and intended it as a gag gift for a family Christmas gift swap a few years ago. Intrigued by the concept, I tried it first. The s%@t works (pun intended). Why would anyone ever want to leave home without it? The company sells 2-ounce bottles that you can easily fit into laptop bags or handbags.

 

  • Wiggle room

Despite how well you plan your project schedule, some tasks will require more time than you anticipate they will, and unexpected phone calls, tech issues, etc. will occasionally happen. If you jam-pack your day down to the minute, you’ll never have a buffer zone to address those sorts of surprises. The solution, add some wiggle room (empty slots of time) into your calendar every day. It’s a sanity saver!

 

Nothing fancy above—just practical items that I’ve found can make a difference professionally.

 

What underappreciated must-haves would you add to the list?