Sunday, 3 January 2010

Dash it

I read an article the other day about hyphens and en dashes and em dashes. To be brutally honest I don’t think I really knew the difference but it forced me to read up about it. It’s a very subtle kind of fun. I found that when I changed the en dashes to em dashes, where they are there to indicate a break in flow of thought or speech or whatever, I was less inclined to use the em dash because it was longer. I ended up using full stops instead of some of the dashes. Clever that. I don’t imagine for a moment that they invented it that way to cause that effect, but it does suggest that it has the right impact on the flow of the text.

Going through the whole book doing that I was slightly irritated to find that there are still typos that I’ve missed all the other times I have read through the thing. I start to wonder if text is inherently unstable. Of course if this were physics there would be some sort of sequence, like Uranium changes into Lead etc. I can’t see any signs of that, so it must be biology, and we’re dealing with something like a random mutation. The key question then has to be what might speed it up or slow it down — in particular, does reading the text make the letters more likely to mutate? Do the eyes running over the text, or daylight falling on it, do something to it, like X-rays hitting cells.

Perhaps it is a product of new computer displays — what is a liquid crystal anyway? Does the liquid flow around, or drip out of the page. Would deep-freezing help?

This is not a good way to start the new year, I know I have to proof read and it’s just not a sensible to think that the more I read, the worse it will be — it just feels like that, and the better I get at proof reading the more it will seem like that — at least to begin with. Is this the end of the beginning or the beginning of the beginning? No it’s the third of January.

1 comment:

  1. Look at it this way: you have caught some typos, which can only be good.

    I have never got to grips with the whole em dash thing.

    I believe my writing is nearly typo-free - the latest person to read all of Heart of Rock found two, for which I was grateful. I think my weakness is inconsistent capitalization etc..