I was reading What If Israel Ceases to Be a Democracy? by Jeffrey Goldberg over at The Atlantic site. It’s forceful, worrying, and short; I encourage you to read it too. But this isn’t about that; it’s about an appalling typographical botch and how you can avoid making it.
Let me quote Goldberg’s opening words:
“Is it actually possible that one day Israelis -- Jewish Israelis -- would choose to give up democracy...”
What’s wrong with this picture? Well, those amateurish hyphens. Goldberg is trying to achieve a perfectly reasonable typographical effect and his production/editorial staff at The Atlantic are letting him down awfully.
Em and En · Those double-hyphens are trying to represent long dashes, used here to set apart the interpolation “Jewish Israelis”, a technique common among many writers including myself. The effect is subtly different from that achieved by setting the interpolation apart with commas, or parenthesizing it. A glance at Wikipedia reveals the variety of dashes conventionally available. Among professional publishers, the em-dash (U+2014 “—”) and en-dash (U+2013 “–”) are both in common use. The correct choice is a complex function of the typeface you’re using and your design aesthetic. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s use em-dashes.
But that isn’t the only issue.
Spaces · The question is, should they appear either side of the dash? Both options are common; have a look:
“Is it actually possible that one
day Israelis—Jewish Israelis—would choose to give up democracy...”
“Is it actually possible that one day Israelis — Jewish Israelis — would choose to give up democracy...”
I personally prefer the second option, with the spaces. However, there’s a catch: If you’re publishing to the Web, you can’t control where the line-breaks are going to occur, and you might end up with something awful like:
...that one day Israelis — Jewish Israelis
— would choose to give up democracy...”
Fortunately this is easy to dodge, with the use of a non-breaking space, U+00A0.
Thus the right incantation is U+00A0, U+2014, U+00A0, or in HTML-speak
— . I edit this space in Emacs,
and have set up handy keyboard shortcuts which make it easy to just type in
the Unicode characters. But there are lots of ways to achieve the effect.
Oh, and if you care about the future of the Middle East at all, do go read Mr. Goldberg’s piece.