Friday, October 15, 2010

The Dashes – En, Em and Hyphen

I am a big fan of the dash and use it frequently in my writing. For me, dashes just fit in well with the way my mind creates written sentences. But I was a bit stumped recently when someone asked me, when do you use an en dash and when do you use an em dash and why can’t you just use a hyphen? Hmmm – good questions. I basically knew the answers, but to be honest, I learned that my preference for using the en dash is technically incorrect – I should really be using the em dash. Drat.

In grammar, the dash can be used to interrupt the flow of a sentence and give a moment of pause before an important or dramatic statement. The dash introduces a related portion after a sentence and gives it more emphasis. The writer can use it to indicate to the reader there is about to be an abrupt change in tone or thought.

The dash functions in much the same manner as a colon, both introduce a related element after a sentence, but the dash is much less formal than a colon. A colon typically tells the reader more information is going to be added to the sentence they just read. The dash is the strongest method possible used to draw attention – it adds dramatic flair. Dashes can be used like commas or parentheses, but if there isn’t much of a payoff after the dash, it’s best to stick to a comma or parentheses.

Here are examples:

I’m going on vacation – to Paris!

I need a few things from the grocery for dinner tonight: peas, linguini and broccoli.

If you don’t mind, could you pick up the mail?

I ran a few errands (grocery, pharmacy and post office).

So, what is the difference between the en, the em and the hyphen and when are they used?

EN Dash ( – ) As long as the width of a capital typeset letter N. The en dash is used to indicate an inclusive range, such as between two numbers like time, money or dates.

EM Dash ( — ) As long as the width of a capital typeset letter M. The em dash is the one that is used in a sentence for emphasis.

Hyphen ( - ) Splits a word at the end of a line or joins compound words. The hyphen connects words and is never to be used in place of a dash.

The length of an en dash falls halfway between the length of a hyphen and length of an em dash. The length of the en and em dashes were originally based on traditional typesetting standards of the N and M, hence the names en and em, but that rule is no longer hard and fast with computer fonts.

There are two ways to format em dashes in a sentence and either way is acceptable. You can use a space or no space preceding and following the em dash, whichever you prefer, just be sure to stay consistent. And a good rule of thumb is to limit the use of em dashes to no more than two per paragraph.

While I’m glad to learn the correct way to use a dash in sentences, I will likely stick to my preference for using the shorter en dash – I just like the way it looks.

Now you’re a little smarter, Girlfriend — And so am I

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Declaration of Independence

I mentioned in a recent blog, The Preamble, that I had bought a book about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Being that it is the 4th of July weekend where most Americans will be celebrating in some manner, I thought the Declaration of Independence would be an appropriate topic to remind us it’s about more than just barbecues and fireworks.

“When in the Course of human Events...” is the beginning phrase of the Declaration of Independence written 234 years ago. The Declaration was a revolutionary manifesto meant to end British rule over America by proclaiming its justified end. Initially, the colonists wanted to avoid independence, even after the outbreak of war at Lexington and Concord in April of 1775. The Second Continental Congress were pressed by their constituents to reconcile with the mother country, which they tried. But after the arrival of more British troops in January of 1776, it was clear the King still held much hostility towards the states. Word spread among the colonists and the consensus was that the time had come to found new governments, free of kings and hereditary rulers, governments whose power came from the popular choice. This conclusion was based on the way the king had treated Americans over the previous years and not on the flaws of Britain’s form of government.

The colonist’s reasons for wanting independence from Britain were cited as King George III’s: refusal to answer their petition for peace from the Second Continental Congress; his approval of the Prohibitory Act of December 1775 essentially making their ships and ports vulnerable to attack by his Royal Navy; marking war on his subjects from America; burning American towns; enlisting slaves and indians to fight against the colonists; and contracting with Germany for mercenary soldiers to assist in his reestablishment of authority in North America.

The colonists knew they needed help from a non-British ally or face being destroyed by Britain’s larger and stronger forces. To attain help, they had to state their intent to cut ties with Britain. On June 7, 1776 they put forth this resolution:

“That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”

On June 11, Congress appointed a committee to draft a declaration to be issued if Congress adopted independence. The committee consisted of five men:

Thomas Jefferson – Virginia Delegate
John Adams – Massachusetts Delegate
Benjamin Franklin – Pennsylvania Delegate
Robert Livingston – Lawyer/Politician/Diplomat from New York
Roger Sherman – Lawyer/Politician from Connecticut
(a delegate is an elected non-voting member of the House of Representatives from a U.S. territory or from Washington, D.C.)

The Declaration of Independence, most of which was penned by Thomas Jefferson, was the action of Second Continental Congress and a unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America for freedom from Britain rule. Throughout the Declaration, the facts set forth for independence repeatedly
state “he,” meaning King George III. Probably the most well known excerpt from the Declaration, that most of us have heard, is; “...that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness...” But how the Declaration ends, the final sentence, I find to be most poignant. “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

Our independence from Britain was an impossible achievement, one that realistically we should not have succeeded in because they were a substantially stronger opponent. But it was accomplished through the unwavering determination of Americans from those 13 colonies who knew it was imperative and worthy of sacrifice. So every July 4th, we give thanks by remembering and honoring them for their fearless and steadfast commitment to the inception and the future of these now 50 United States of America.

Remarkably, John Adams died on July 4, 1826. His friend, Thomas Jefferson, died that same day.

Now you’re a little smarter, Girlfriend — And so am I.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


A few weeks ago I started making dinner and turned on the television to watch the news but forgot to change the channel. The show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader” came on, which I have to admit I’d heard about but never watched. I decided to listen as I cooked just to see how I did. One of the questions was, which element on the periodic table is known by the symbol Na. I was so excited – I actually knew the answer. Even better, the gal playing the game missed it! It was a small triumph though because she pretty much got all of the other questions correct and I – did not. Apparently, I should be watching that show and not the news.

Symbol: Na / Group: Alkali Metal / Atomic Number: 11

Sodium is most commonly known to us as salt. But our table salt is not pure sodium, it’s actually sodium chloride (NaCl), which is the combination of the elements sodium and chlorine. And if we happen to be on a low-sodium diet, then it’s potassium chloride we are eating. Potassium chloride isn’t as tasty as sodium chloride and has a bitter metallic note to its saltiness, which must be why people prefer regular salt.

When exposed to air, the silvery color of sodium tarnishes, turning white within seconds. What is most interesting about sodium is that it’s extremely explosive. When you throw sodium into water, it rapidly generates hydrogen gas and seconds later ignites with a massive bang spewing flaming sodium in all directions. The other alkali metals react in much the same way, but when sodium reacts with water it produces sodium hydroxide, or Lye which is commonly used as a drain opener.

The salt in our oceans isn’t pure sodium either. It’s mostly sodium, chloride, magnesium, calcium, potassium and sulfate. The elements of this salt “cocktail” arrive from various sources: decayed biological matter, volcanic vents in the Earth’s crust, breaking up of rocks via erosion of mountains, the dissolving action of rain, streams washing particles into the oceans, and even from our atmosphere. This complex salt content of our oceans is why sea salt tastes different from our typical table salt. The elements that make up both are not the same.

So why is the symbol for sodium Na and not So? Sodium comes from the Latin name natrium, which actually comes from the Egyptian name natron, the word for the natural mineral salt.

Now you’re a little smarter, Girlfriend — And so am I.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The American’s Creed

I have to admit, I didn’t even know that we had an American’s Creed. But, with Independence Day fast approaching, now is an opportune time to learn about it. And with the fatigue from our current economic pinch and seemingly perpetual bad news, maybe we can find some inspiration from a truly selfless man – a true American in every sense of the word.

William Tyler Page of Maryland, who was an employee of the U.S. House of Representatives and Clerk of the House from 1919 to 1931, was the winner of a nationwide contest for the best summary of American political faith. His idea was to write a creed in the style of the Apostle’s Creed (I’ll have to look that one up.) It came to him while driving home from church in 1917, a time when the United States was fighting World War I. Page used the writings of the Declaration of Independence, Preamble to the Constitution and the Gettysburg Address for inspiration. The U.S. House of Representatives accepted Page’s Creed on behalf of the American people and in 1918, it became the official American’s Creed.

The prize William Tyler Page won: $1,000. I’m sure that was a substantial amount of money in 1918. But rather than keep it for himself, he used the money to buy Liberty Bonds and gave them to his church. Now that is a true American.

The American’s Creed

I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a Republic; a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect Union; one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.

I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it; to support its Constitution; to obey its laws; to respect its flag; and to defend it against all enemies.

Tomorrow, I am going to do a good deed for a fellow American because I am happy to be an American. Thanks for the inspiration, Mr. Page.

Now you’re a little smarter, Girlfriend — And so am I.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Eagle Has Landed

My father-in-law happens to be friends with Neil Armstrong. I was fortunate to meet Mr. Armstrong and his wife at my mother-in-law’s funeral and although it was under sad circumstances, it was none-the-less a cool thing to actually meet the person who was the first human ever to step foot on the moon.

On July 20, 1969, Apollo II astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed Eagle on the surface of the moon. Moments after they landed, Neil Armstrong’s voice from a quarter of a million miles away announced to Earth, “the Eagle has landed.”

Eagle’s trip to the moon’s surface had not gone exactly as planned. The computer had overloaded and the spacecraft hurled toward the surface – Houston decided not to abort the mission and directed “Eagle, you are a go for landing.” The computer had overshot Eagle’s mark by four miles and as Armstrong looked out the window to find a smooth landing area, he saw they were approaching a crater of jagged boulders. A warning light began to blink indicating they were running out of landing fuel. With no other options, Armstrong took command from the computer and safely landed Eagle just as the low-fuel signal flashed. Six and a half hours later, he and Aldrin stepped onto the surface of the moon.

Before Armstrong and Aldrin departed, they left a plaque on the moon that says:

JULY 1969, A.D.

If we could create peace on Earth for all mankind, that would truly be an amazing achievement!

Now you’re a little smarter, Girlfriend — And so am I.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Preamble

Well, it’s been far too long since I’ve blogged — I had good intentions. Time to get back to learning.

Last fall I got very involved in a local PAC (political action committee) for a great cause in which we were unfortunately defeated, but sometimes it only takes a few to make a big difference and you still have to try no matter the odds.

A couple of weeks ago, I bought a book at our local bookstore, Pages, about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. It made me think a lot about the sacrifices made by so many, the courage and dedication of a handful, and how both made such an impact on our lives today. Our small PAC fighting for 13 acres of land would not have been possible had it not been for all of the people who have given so much for us to not have to give much at all. So I sat down with my book and memorized the Preamble. I felt like it was something I absolutely should know by heart. We all take our freedoms for granted, but even little things, like going against the world’s largest retailer, reminds me how truly fortunate we are to have our voices heard regardless of the outcome.

The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Now you’re a little smarter, Girlfriend — And so am I.