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Is the hyphen used in British publications in lieu of the em dash?

I've seen the hyphen used (in place of the dash) in 'The Guardian' and 'The BBC'. Is this okay to do? Would you ever use the hyphen as a replacement for the em dash? Or is this heavily frowned upon and out-and-out wrong? I think it looks good; the em dash is too dang long.

Example:

Her qualities - determination, dedication and commitment - have not gone unrecognized.

  • 3
    I suspect that's a spaced en dash rather than a hyphen. It's a common practice in typography to lighten the dash. It would be helpful if you showed scanned examples of what you're talking about, as typographical differences can be subtle. – Bradd Szonye Feb 28 '14 at 14:31
  • I don't know how to attach a scanned example, unfortunately. – whippoorwill Feb 28 '14 at 14:41
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No, it's frowned upon where the em-dash (or spaced en-dash) is available in serious publications. It may look alright in a mono-spaced font, although I suspect that even there a real dash is slightly longer within the unit width. What to use as a dash is a matter of style and preference, but a hyphen is not a dash.

Unfortunately the quality of the proof-reading on the BBC website is not particularly good, and there's a good reason why the Guardian newspaper used to be lampooned as the Grauniad. Neither is the best example to choose to follow.

  • You seem to be suggesting that the em-dash is favoured above the en-dash. I notice you are in UK, so you may know something I don't, but isn't the em-dash only favoured in US publications? ie, "... (or spaced en-dash, in British English)..."? – nxx Mar 1 '14 at 12:55
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    What is favoured is entirely subjective, except that a hyphen is not a dash. Personally, I use spaced em-dashes. Perhaps I'm just odd. – Andrew Leach Mar 1 '14 at 13:22

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