Saturday, May 28, 2011

Mea Culpa

A writer -- one who carries more weight than I do -- writes:

What's the matter with an em dash or two, you ask?—or so I like to imagine. What's not to like about a sentence that explores in full all the punctuational options—sometimes a dash, sometimes an ellipsis, sometimes a nice semicolon at just the right moment—in order to seem more complex and syntactically interesting, to reach its full potential? Doesn't a dash—if done right—let the writer maintain an elegant, sinewy flow to her sentences?

Nope—or that's my take, anyway. Now, I'm the first to admit—before you Google and shame me with a thousand examples in the comments—that I'm no saint when it comes to the em dash. ...

The problem with the dash—as you may have noticed!—is that it discourages truly efficient writing. It also—and this might be its worst sin—disrupts the flow of a sentence. Don't you find it annoying—and you can tell me if you do, I won't be hurt—when a writer inserts a thought into the midst of another one that's not yet complete? ...

What I'd argue -- sort of the exception that proves the exception -- is that blogging is a special case. It is -- at least for those of us who feel the need to get stuff out there rapidly -- a continually unfinished product. When I wrote my book -- I'd encourage all humans to purchase it, by the way, and at full price -- I spent a great deal of time working and reworking a sentence -- so much so that eventually I knew the whole damn thing by heart, and my eyes began to run down pages -- I caught myself often -- without absorbing photons.

To some blog posts I devote a fair amount -- by which I mean I delay posting, re-read, edit -- of time and effort. Others -- this being one -- are sort of tossed out there like the pine cones I pick off my lawn and backhand over the bluff. This may not be an excuse -- although I'd hope it was -- but it's an explanation. Or is it the other way around? The main thing is -- and I've thought about it before -- is that me and em are a little too cozy sometimes -- and I admit it.


Anonymous said...

Sid - go right ahead with your em dashes - and thanks to you and Google I now know what to call a pilcrow.
I always enjoy your posts and nearly always agree with them, em dashed or not.

Sid Schwab said...

Thanks, Bill. It's nice -- and I mean that sincerely -- to know it's appreciated. I have to admit, though, that I have no idea what a ¶ is.

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