Friday, November 02, 2018

punctuation note

I've seen the following error crop up rather a lot in recent days—sometimes among certain online news articles and essays, and sometimes in the prose of certain bloggers I know. See if you can spot the error in this sample sentence:

I lived in Panama from 1985-2010.

Catch it? Some people skip right over the problem without even seeing it because they're trained to read punctuation a certain way, such that the punctuation has a certain "sound" inside their heads. If you're still having trouble seeing the gaffe: the problem is the hyphen (between years, page numbers, etc., it should technically be an en dash, but I don't know the keystroke shortcut for en dashes on my Mac*). Note that the interval is written as

from 1985-2010

—with the "from" written out in prose and the "to" replaced by a hyphen that mentally registers as the word "to." This is why the error is hard to catch: your mental "voice" reads the hyphen as a word, so you gloss over the problem. The way to correct this is to write out "to" in letters and not to use the hyphen:

from 1985 to 2010

So for those of you who keep doing the prose/hyphen thing: stop it. Right fucking NOW.

There's a good article on the proper use of hyphens, em dashes, and en dashes here, with focus on the latter two marks. The en dash means "through" and is used to indicate numerical intervals, as in "Dec. 23–March 5" or "pp. 369–525." Hyphens can be inserted between numbers when not indicating an interval, e.g., when writing a phone number: 703-991-3286.

*Discovered. The keyboard shortcut is option-minus. As you see above, I used the shortcut to create en dashes. Yay, me.


John Mac said...

Guilty as charged. I looked at what you wrote from 7:01-7:03 and couldn't see the problem. After reading your explanation I understand. However, I think this falls into the category of not grammatically correct but overtaken by common usage. However, I will endeavor to use "to" instead of the hyphen in the future.

Charles said...

Let all hear and take heed, from sea – shining sea!

Anonymous said...

Microsoft will automatically replace a double hyphen(what I was taught to use in this situation) with an endash if it is used between two words without spaces.