Apple tells us that there are over 100 new features in iPhone Software 3.0. One of them is the addition of the em dash. I haven't seen much discussion of the em dash feature on other websites—which doesn't really surprise me—but because many lawyers appreciate precise legal writing, I thought I would discuss it here today. And yes, I did just effortlessly use em dashes in my last sentence. That's just the kind of guy I am.
Let's start by talking about the three kinds of dashes. First, there is a hyphen, which purists will correctly note isn't a dash at all, even though most of us think of it that way. The hyphen is the key on your computer keyboard right next to the zero key. Hyphens are used to create some compound words (such as merry-go-round) or to indicate subtraction.
Slightly longer than the hyphen is the en dash, which is used to indicate a range of values, such as an indication that a meeting is scheduled for 10:00–11:00 a.m. The en dash is also used when indicating the vote of a court, such as: the Supreme Court affirmed in a 5–4 decision. It sometimes helps to think of the en dash as a substitute for the word to. The en dash is roughly the width of the letter n.
Finally, and slightly longer than the en dash, there is the em dash. An em dash is roughly the width of the letter m and is used to set off an abrupt break or interruption, such as this example from Strunk and White: His first thought on getting out of bed—if he had any thought at all—was to get back in again. An em dash is also used to indicate that a sentence has been interrupted and did not end. For example, what if I said—
There is some disagreement on whether you should place spaces on both sides of an em dash. You'll find seemingly authoritative sources on both sides of the debate. The Wikipedia entry on "dash" sums it up as follows:
According to most American sources (e.g., The Chicago Manual of Style) and to some British sources (e.g., The Oxford Guide to Style), an em dash should always be set closed (not surrounded by spaces). But the practice in many parts of the English-speaking world, also the style recommended by The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, sets it open (separates it from its surrounding words by using spaces or hair spaces (U+200A)) when it is being used parenthetically. Some writers, finding the em dash unappealingly long, prefer to use an open-set en dash. This "space, en dash, space" sequence is also the predominant style in German and French typography.
If you want to read more on hyphens, en dashes and em dashes, click here for a short but good discussion in the Chicago Manual of Style Online.
I can't say that I am religious about the hyphen, en dash and em dash, either on this website or in my legal writing. Sometimes instead of the em dash I just use a double hyphen like this -- which seems to get the point across just fine. (Indeed, Microsoft Word will automatically convert two dashes to an em dash when you type the two dashes between words without using spaces.) Sometimes I use the space, en dash, space sequence. Nevertheless, it is nice to have the power to use a hyphen or a dash when you want to do so. The iPhone has always included a hyphen, and in iPhone Software 3.0, you can also now make the em dash. To do so, just hold down the normal hyphen key for a second or two and a pop-up menu will appear that allows you to choose the em dash.
So now we can make the hyphen and the em dash. What about the en dash? The iPhone can certainly make the en dash character, and if you want proof, just load up this webpage on your iPhone and look at this:
- - hyphen
- – en dash
- — em dash
The iPhone can render the en dash correctly, but it is impossible to type it on the keyboard. There may be a way to type it from one of the many international keyboards on the iPhone, but if so I haven't found it yet. There is one workaround with the new copy and paste function of 3.0: if you are desperate to use an en dash, you can copy it from someplace else and paste it where you want it such as in an e-mail. For example, you could copy the en dash above from this web page, and I am happy to provide this service free of charge.
[UPDATE: As pointed out by Jon and Fuzzy in the comments, Glyphboard is a free workaround for the missing en dash and many other missing characters on the iPhone keyboard. [UPDATE#2: Glyphboard's author Neven Mrgan tells me that he added the en dash to his app this morning after he saw the initial post here on iPhone J.D. Thanks, Neven!] There is a nice review of Glyphboard here on MacGeek Pro, and Steve Rubel has a quick video demonstration of it here. To get it working, go to this address on your iPhone: http://mrgan.com/gb/ Then follow the on-screen directions and press the plus sign at the bottom of your Safari screen to Add to Home Screen. Then click on the icon that you just added to your home screen to start the web app, and you can copy a special character from Glyphboard and then paste it someplace else, such as in an e-mail. Glyphboard includes 48 special characters, including the en dash, as shown here:
You even get the Daring Fireball star-in-a-circle logo, and indeed John Gruber even linked to Glyphboard earlier this month when I was out of the country. Note that if you paste these symbols in an e-mail, not all of them will display on all computers. For example, I did a quick test and the en dash, the happy face, the heart, the music notes, the paragraph sign, the copyright sign and the spade displayed fine using Outlook on my PC running Windows XP, but the star-in-a-circle, the yin-yang, the umbrella, the check mark, the skull-and-crossbones, the snowman, the envelope and the Apple (it's a conspiracy!) did not display on my PC. Thanks again to Neven Mrgan for writing this very cool little app.]
Will Apple ever give us the en dash on the iPhone? Maybe not. I don't own a copy of the AP Stylebook for journalists, but from what I have read (and confirmed here) the AP doesn't even recognize the en dash and tells journalists to instead use the hyphen. But I'd like to think that smart Apple engineers are hard at work on this feature right now, and at some point, perhaps in iPhone Software 4.0 next year, we'll have an en dash option right next to the em dash when you hold down the hyphen key. A boy can dream.