Re: Using M-dash and N-dash

Subject: Re: Using M-dash and N-dash
From: Dick Margulis <margulis -at- fiam -dot- net>
To: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 10 Feb 2004 14:22:45 -0500

Bruce Byfield wrote:

Dick Margulis wrote:

You are entitled to your opinion, even if it is based on limited information. The relative ugliness or grace of the em dash depends on the relationship between the font designer and the font manufacturer. Whether we're talking about handset composition, mechanical typesetting, photomechanical typesetting, or digital typesetting, the choice between a solid em dash and space-en dash-space has always depended on the particular implementation of the font chosen by the designer. Done well, the solid em dash looks every bit as elegant as space-en dash-space--more elegant in some situations.

What you say is technically true. However, if the original poster didn't have a point, then why do so many people use an en dash? In all too many fonts, the em dash truly is surpassingly ugly. The reason, I suspect, is that the em dash is often not given much attention by the designer. In fact, I find that one of the quickest ways to get a sense of a font is to look at characters like the em dash (as well as the ampersand and the question mark). The design effort that goes into these characters often tells you a lot about the general quality of the font.


Thanks for giving me the opportunity to clarify an ambiguity in my earlier post. The font designer is one person. The book designer/publication designer is another. In my haste I used the word designer to refer to both.

Let me try again. Sometimes (in some technologies and with some companies) the type designer takes care to execute or supervise the execution of the miscellaneous, dull punctuation marks. In other relationships, the company uses generic dashes or assigns a junior technician to design some of the puncutation marks and diacritics. As you note, this difference speaks to the quality (and often the price) of the font.

The book or publication designer selects a font for production and may or may not have control over exactly which vendor's font is used or what typesetting system (these days what software) is used to do the composition. That's because the composition bidding process, in which different composition houses compete for the job, generally occurs after the design is submitted. So then it is up to the astuteness of the publisher's buyer and production editor to ensure that the book designer's intentions are carried out.

However, given imperfect knowledge the book designer makes a font selection and then either considers the dash question or defers to the publisher's house standard.

As you also correctly state, em dashes are implemented badly in a lot of systems. Word is nortoriously bad, regardless of the font. So if you are stuck using a system that doesn't handle em dashes well, it is perfectly reasonable to decide to use space-en dash-space instead. But that is not a reason to categorically abandon the em dash in all situations.

That's all I was getting at.

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Re: Using M-dash and N-dash: From: Shankar
Re: Using M-dash and N-dash: From: Dick Margulis
Re: Using M-dash and N-dash: From: Bruce Byfield

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