Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 21:35 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 21:35 | SYDNEY

Funny: Use – don't abuse – dashes


Sam Roggeveen


7 September 2012 16:40

Via Michael Fullilove's Twitter feed, I find this entertaining and perceptive Maureen Dowd column about the differences between Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. But the sub-editor in me despairs at the fact that even the Grey Lady (that's the nickname for the NY Times, by the way, not Dowd) seems to have succumbed to the abuse of the long dash, which lately seems to substitute not only for parentheses but commas, colons, semicolons and sometimes full stops as well. An example from Dowd's column:

But now — because of his own naïveté, insularity and arrogance — he needs Clinton to rev up the disillusioned faithful and donors and lure independents and white working-class men.

Wrong. Dashes suggest the text within is an aside, not so in this case. And they encourage the reader to stop and take a breath, whereas commas imply just the slightest pause and tell you that you're getting important context for what came before and what is yet to come.

For the tragics who care about this stuff, the funniest thing on air at present is the new season of Lowdown, an ABC comedy about tabloid journalism. In season 1, there was a running gag involving a pedantic subbie (is there another kind?), who reappears about nine and-a-half minutes into episode 1 of the new series, which aired last night. If you're in Australia, you can watch it on iView.

But for language wonks, the real highlight comes a minute later as the reporter is talking to his editor about possible headlines for some nude photos they've found of a government minister:

Editor: I'm thinking "Order in the House".

Reporter: "The naked civil servant".

Editor: "Question time".

Reporter: "Yes, Minister"!

Editor: Ooh. Is there a comma between the 'yes' and the 'minister'?

Reporter: Of course!

Editor: Bang, you've got me.