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Posted by Bob on January 25, 2004

In Reply to: &mdash posted by Smokey Stover on January 25, 2004

: : : : : : : Is it a word?

: : : : : : In printing there is an Em Dash and an En dash

: : : : : : N-Dash is a -
: : : : : : M-Dash is a longer dash a --

: : : : : No question that 'em' and 'en' are words. My question was raised
: : : : : by the first sentence in Maureen Dowd's column in today's New York Times:
: : : : : 'Washington - Whoa!' Are there three words in this sentence?
: : : : : If so, the second begins with the letter (?) '&'?

: : : : Now we know - battle of the pedants. Only a contentious jerk would suggest that a punctuation mark is a word.

: : : : 2 words - "washington" and "whoa" simple as that.

: : : Calm down. Some internet transmissions that cross browsers or platforms have trouble interpreting some alphanumeric characters. One version of Word to another, Netscape to Explorer, Mac to Windows, and so forth. Occasionally, sometning like an em dash is transcribed "&emdash" which is apparently what happened in this case. It looks a little like a word in that context, thus the question.

: : 'a little like a word' but NOT a word. any old string as ASCII characters could appear, but it doesn't mean that you can call them 'words' in anything other than a cryptographic sense.

: : Rant over.

: I didn't see the Maureen Dowd column, but if she said "8mdash" or meant to say "8mdash," then I say "Maureen Dowd----WHOA!" If you are trying to express in English a dash that is eight ems long, try saying "8-em dash." Doesn't the Times have a proof-reader? Or a style sheet? But maybe that's not what Dowd meant to say. Why would anyone need a dash of that length? SS

Let me try again. The internet is (in theory) not dependent on any platform or browser, since it encodes text in ASCII code. The theory is imperfect. On occasion, certain typographic characters (accents, Euro symbol, tildes, whatever) get mis-read and displayed as a string of characters that the author never intended. One of these is the em-dash, a character that is created (on my keyboard) by simultaneously holding down the Option and Hyphen keys. This is not so on every keyboard, thus the problem. Maureen Dowd surely typed the words "Washington" and "Whoa" and separated them with an em. But when this went on the internet (and I'll bet dollars to donuts this was read in the on-line version of the NYT) it appeared on some screens as a word-like configuration, &emdash. Not an 8. Not intended to be a word by Ms. Dowd. Not caught by any proofreader because it was published correctly, and mis-read by certain browsers on the receiving end. It's nobody's fault.