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Posted by Anders on November 18, 2003

In Reply to: Note on dashes posted by GPP on November 18, 2003

: : : : : : : : : : : When you write cost-benefit analysis, do you use a hyphen or an n-dash (aka n-rule)? Admittedly, this is a question only for the madly pedantic, but hey, I fit that category, so please - knock yourselves out! I got the Oxford Style Manual for my birthday (as an addition to my Chicago Manual of Style), and in the OSM they render cost-benefit analysis with an n-dash. As I don't have the book with me here (sorry!), I cannot give you the reason for it, but whatever the reason given, it did not, while I was reading it, become clear to me why they prefer the n-dash. They have some other good examples, though, with dire semantic implications: The Arab-American [hyphen] community refers to people originating from the Middle East now living in the States, cf. Afro-American, etc. The Arab-American [n-dash] community, on the other hand, is people from the Arabic countries PLUS Americans considered as one group. This is the OSM's own very up-the-minute example. Based on this, I suppose one would talk about the Soviet-American [n-dash] cold war. On the other hand - and on a lighter note - we may say that Anna Kournikova is a Soviet-American [hyphen] babe. If there is a case to be made in favour of writing cost-benefit analysis with a hyphen, it would be that it's a (compound) word in it's own right. That is, it's very often used. It's not like you alter between it and, say, cost-profit analysis, and even if you did, I still don't see the reason for using the n-dash. I look forward to hearing your comments on this.
: : : : : : : : : : : Best
: : : : : : : : : : : Anders

: : : : : : : : : : You've lost me. What is an "n-dash"?

: : : : : : : : : Sorry 'bout that, ESC! Well, it all concerns the length of you dashes. Perhaps you've noticed, when writing in MS Word, or some such program, that a single hyphen, surrounded by space, and being between two words, may automatically become longer as you keep writing - strictly speaking, when pressing space or return. In this manner, a hyphen may turn into an n-dash (or so it does on my computer). The m-dash is twice as long as the n-dash. How you employ them depends on the style sheet you use. The HTML codes for n- and m-dash are: - and - respectively (the codes may be rendered as dashes when I post this, which will only make it clearer, so let's hope it happens).
: : : : : : : : : Cheers
: : : : : : : : : Anders

: : : : : : : : Yeah, we're in luck! Only the hyphen cannot be distinguished from the n-dash. Anyway, let's post them again:
: : : : : : : : hyphen: -
: : : : : : : : n-dash: -
: : : : : : : : m-dash: -
: : : : : : : : Anders

: : : : : : : Correction, it really does work!
: : : : : : : Anders

: : : : : : So m-dash and n-dash are mere artifacts of Microsoft Word and are therefore simply toys for geeks. I understand the artifact was to create a non-breaking space in a machine readable document and has therefore no standing whatever on the printed page.

: : : : : Em dashes and en dashes preceded MS Word by a long, long time. They go back to hot-lead typesetting.

: : : : : I'd use a hyphen in "cost-benefit analysis."

: : : : I'd use my accountant!

: : : This little note (cf. link) gives a brief explanation of the different dashes. However, it says the em rule is now less common than it used to be. I wonder if that's generally true? I really like it!
: : : Anders

: : When typewriters walked the earth, the standard way to type an em dash was with two consecutive hyphens and no spaces. I still use dashes when I write. I haven't noticed their decline.

: On a computer, as opposed to a typewriter, a potential problem with the two consecutive hyphens and no spaces is that some display protocols handle this badly in a wordwrap, and occasionally you'll find that your text is split BETWEEN the two hyphens. If the display format is important, and you can't see in advance where your wrap will fall (as here, for instance), then it's safer to use either the space-hyphen-space or the space-hyphen-hyphen-space formats. On the other hand, some WP programs consider the two hypens with no spaces--such as this--to be all one inseparable word, and can leave a too-long empty space at the end of a line.

True, never trust a computer on something as important as this. From Insert -> Symbol (in MS Word), I have set up shortcuts for en and em dash, which I use always. Hyphen, of course, is already on the keyboard. In this manner, I use three different commands for the three different signs. Consequently, there are no unpleasant surprises.