Have you ever thought about your favorite punctuation mark, the one you use most often? It might say something about your personality.
I think most people would use the period more often than any other mark in English. But that doesn’t mean the period is their favorite punctuation mark. Nearly every sentence, unless it’s a question or exclamation, ends with one after all.
But when you’re writing something, what punctuation mark do you tend to go wild with?
In my case, I can answer that question easily. My favorite punctuation mark is the em dash. More than a hyphen (-), the em dash is longer — like that. It makes it clear that you’re about to add some parenthetical information or come to a conclusion. It can also replace a colon at times if you want to really emphasize the end of a sentence. The Punctuation Guide offers this example:
- After months of deliberation, the jurors reached a unanimous verdict—guilty.
The writer could easily have used a colon in place of the dash. But visually, it does set off that last word a bit more dramatically.
Sometimes we need a little drama.
Once in a while, a little mayhem can be a wonderful thing.
Back in 2012, Ben Zimmer told The Atlantic that he confessed his love for the em-dash in a New York Times article. Baltimore Sun copy editor John McIntyre took him to task. McIntyre told him to always consider whether you wouldn’t rather use a comma or parenthesis.
Zimmer then made an effort, he said, to “tone down” his usage. But, he said, “I still admire the artfully wielded em-dash, especially used near the end of a sentence—when it works, it really works.”
What does the em-dash say about me?
You can Google the phrase “favorite punctuation mark say about you” and come up with plenty of articles. (I guess I’m one of the few who rarely does a search on Google with an actual question.)
Indy100 has this to say about em-dash lovers:
You love an attractive aesthetic even if it makes you pretentious – and take pride in using the most extra form of parenthesis so recklessly. You’re also absolutely – without a doubt – a writer.
The site offers interpretations for the other marks, too!
The Washington Post published its own tongue-in-cheek version.
You can surely find plenty more examples.
I tend to avoid em-dashes when I’m writing for work. They seem a bit more casual. But I have to agree with Zimmer and with CNN’s Emmy Jo Favilla: “There are few things more beautiful than a strategically placed em dash”