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En dash or hyphen

Posted by Smokey Stover on November 23, 2003

In Reply to: En dash or hyphen posted by Bob on November 23, 2003

: : : Hello friends
: : : Below I give you, as promised, the quote from the Oxford Style Manual. Upon reading it again, I can see where they are going with this. If the rule is now no longer mind-blowing to me, it is at least arresting. Literally. It interrupts your writing. Cost-benefit analysis - let me correct myself: cost-benefit analysis (to replace the hyphen with the en dash) - remains a case in point. True, the meaning is cost-to-benefit or benefit-to-cost analysis; but whereas the Ali-Foreman match may just as well be called the Foreman-Ali match, this is not so with cost-benefit analysis: benefit-cost analysis is simply, if not unidiomatic, certainly markedly less current. Google show the former to be about 12 times as widespread as the latter. (Cost-benefit analysis: 367,000 hits; benefit-cost analysis: 30,300 hits). If some users or companies have invested different meanings into these two expressions, they are even less interchangeable than the factor 12 indicates. And if so, it's so much the worse for the rule of the en rule.
: : : Best
: : : Anders

: : : Use the en rule closed up to express the meaning of to or and between words of equal importance. In these cases the words can be reversed in order without altering the meaning. The hyphen must be used when the first element cannot stand on its own.
: : : Dover-Calais crossing
: : : on-off switch
: : : editor-author relationship
: : : Permian-Carboniferous boundary
: : : Ali-Foreman match
: : : dose-response curve
: : : cost-benefit analysis
: : : wave-particle duality

: : "Use the en rule closed up to express the meaning of to or and between words of equal importance." That's new, and I find it ridiculous. In my copy-editing experience, which began in the late 1960s, we used hyphens in such places. Some pairs of words called for a slash instead, depending on the meaning. Why change that? Who's revising the rules?

: An en-dash is indistinguishable from a hyphen, isn't it? It's the em-dash - that's wider, and used in a sentence.

: The "old thread" used to include a comment by Smokey, but evidently I entered it incorrectly and it has gone missing. My comment had to do with the length of en-spaces or en-dashes, em-dashes and hyphens. In the days of printing from type, there were pieces for each of these. The hyphens were short, the en-spaces the width of the lower-case n, and em spaces the width of the lower-case m. That's why they were called en-spaces and em-spaces, or en-dashes and em-dashes. I would have to know personally a programmer involved in Microsoft Word before I believed that these values could be depended on in the program. I would never put my absolute trust in the compiler of a style manual, for Oxford University Press or any other. The editors of these manuals are faddists. Every time there's a new edition there's a new editor, and he tries to make his mark by making changes. Look up the use of the hyphen in successive editions of "A Manual of Style," published by the University of Chicago Press. Hyphens are punctuation, which is addly and disconcertingly subject to the dictates of fashion. Unfortunately the people responsible for these fashions have no real understanding of the functions or punctuation and no real respect for the language. One of the more interesting articles I've seen on punctuation was an effort to explain the much-criticized punctuation of Robert Frost. A careful examination of his punctuation reveals, besides a few inconsistencies, the fact that he understood perfectly what he wanted the punctuation to do. His editors have all wanted to emend his punctuation, and mostly have, but his original punctuation is a testament to his logic and clarity of thinking and expression. Style manuals are great for being consistent and for being in step with the other guys. But don't trust them. Incidentally, in this series of entries, Ms. Berg has got it right, although I'm a bit dubious about slashes. They tend to suggest informality and if that's what you want, fine. SS