Dear Writers: 'Leave the Damn Em Dash Alone'

It's overused and inefficient: Noreen Malone
By Luke Kelly-Clyne,  Newser Staff
Posted May 28, 2011 3:36 PM CDT

(Newser) – Might one overused punctuation threaten the integrity of modern prose? Noreen Malone thinks so, and she points to the em dash as culprit. But wait, "doesn't a dash—if done right—let the writer maintain an elegant, sinewy flow to her sentences?" she asks in her anti-em-dash essay at Slate. "Nope—or that's my take anyway." Malone laments overuse of the em dash because "it discourages truly efficient writing" and disrupts sentence flow. "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?"

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Noting that Emily Dickinson was a frequent dash user: "Can there really be—at the risk of sounding like a troglodyte—something feminine about the use of a dash, some sort of lighthearted gossamer quality?" Malone wonders. "More likely," she decides, "it's the lack of hard-and-fast usage rules." In the absence of any definitive guide, she recommends some writerly advice: "Leave the damn em dash alone." (Read more grammar stories.)

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