Out of the 15 challenge entries five were ‘clean’: In entries 3, 4, 10, 11 and 14 there’s no sign of dashes or ellipses. I wonder whether this is deliberate ‘purity’?
Below are the lists of all the usages and abusages I found in the entries (1-12 for dashes and a-r for ellipses). I’ve referred to them in what follows: (you’ll need to scroll down)
Entry # 1 has one legitimate omission of words (a). But do we need the space before and the comma after the ellipsis?
Entry #6 (g and h) has genuine, unfinished sentences. Entry #15 (12) has one perfect abrupt interruption.
Of the remaining entries #13 (p, q, r) uses an excess of dots for pauses. The ellipsis should be typed as 3 dots. If you backspace once after these, they all go away because they make up one punctuation mark: the ellipsis.
#2 (b) has just the one pause, typed as space-3 dots-space. Is that first space superfluous? Would a colon do? Or a dash?
That leaves ## 5, 7, 8, 9, and 12. I do believe some of those may be hooked on a not always carefully considered use of dramatic punctuation.
#8 is the eye-opener; or it was for me. I’ve never seen the em dash, as it is correctly named, written out in that way, i.e. as two hyphens with no spaces. It’s called the em dash because it’s as wide as the letter M was on the typewriter. In the days of secretarial courses and typing pools pupils were taught to type the dash as seen in #8. However, most computer programmes now automatically convert two consecutive hyphens into an em dash, and I wonder how #8 managed to keep them apart (in most cases, at least). I prefer to type my em dash with space-hyphen-space, and I think it’s fun to watch the hyphen lengthening into a dash. Like this – you see. But if I type in two hyphens with no spaces—this is the result. Quite classy, really! I can’t get the two hyphens to stay put. Another way of doing it is to hold down ALT and type in 0151 on the number pad—as I’ve just done.
So all #8’s dashes / double hyphens may look unfamiliar, but they are perfectly correct both as they stand and as they are used (5, 6, 7): Abrupt changes of subject matter and in (7) an even more abrupt end!
#5 has two correct uses (1 and e) and three feeble ellipses (c, d, f). #7 is overly fond of dashes, I think. Are they abrupt interruptions? #9 sometimes leaves a hyphen in the dash space and also uses two-dot ellipses. I wonder if (9) and (10) should be trailing off ellipses rather than abrupt interruptions. #12 seems to be overly fond of ellipses. Is anything omitted? Shouldn’t (k) be a dash?
I’ve skimmed through too many articles on this subject and I’ve come to the conclusion that—if I can control myself—I’d prefer to stick to the stricter definitions about omissions and abrupt interruptions. One thing is certain: Effective use of punctuation enhances your writing. The opposite is equally true.
Here are the examples from the ‘Dust’ entries (referred to in the above):
1) #5: Acarids – dust mites – don’t scare me any more. 2) #7: she’d confuse Thursdays with Wednesdays – even Tuesdays. 3) #7: was always welcome – and she liked to go. 4) #7: I went in with her – and it was clear that 5) #8: The plan–5 day’s walking in the desert, a 3 day silent retreat and then another five days of walking–quickly unravelled. 6) #8: The edge of the ridge we’d camped behind crumbled and fell – so that’s what caused all those caves 7) #8 : The tree– 8) #9: I had a – a vision.” 9) #9: Dust was important, but – 10) #9: She wasn’t sure that she believed in Pullman either, but – 11) #9: Wait though – what if the Pen had created 12) #15: the next – there!
a) #1: “But, er …,” b) #2: all she could see was dust … motes of dust hanging everywhere c) #5: I never open the door for longer than absolutely necessary… to be on the safe side. d) #5: She was tiny and scrawny… not even five; e) #5: inhalers, syringes, pills… it was like a hospital emergency ward. f) #5: I tried not to sleep… kept the light on in my bedroom g) #6: Once a week times 52 weeks times 40 years of marriage… h) #6: The saw stands guard above as if it knows… i) #9: “I saw it. I saw.. Pullman’s Pen.” j) #9: Except.. if everything was nothing but a fiction k) #12: if recent figures are to be believed… ah yes, don’t think we lack access l) #12: knee-deep in your own slough-off… bolstering your over-zealous m) #12: My faeces… well, our faeces, have n) #12: We’re on your side… our faeces are your faeces! o) #13: and see what happens…… p) #13: I get it…. q) #13: Dust love me….. loada nonsense r) #13: dust over their hair….. unlike our dustbin women
I’d very much like to hear other people’s opinions, please!!!