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I am reading "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen and encountered a strange dash in this sentence:
"The officers of the ---- shire were in general [...]"
---- is a long line and not four single dashes. What is the meaning of that long dash? It was repeated many times and I couldn't make out what exactly was meant.

  • 3
    It's not a dash. It's like a redaction, choosing to omit the name of the shire in question here. I've never been totally sure why authors do this in mostly older literature and look forward to good answers, too. – ben Jun 17 '16 at 16:33
  • very related, so related that your question might be a duplicate english.stackexchange.com/questions/9479/… – P. O. Jun 17 '16 at 17:30
  • @P.Obertelli Thanks, interesting answer there too. – Burkhard Jun 17 '16 at 19:34
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Such omissions are a stylistic consideration, and as such, they are dictated by the governing manual of style. The Chicago Manual of Style recommends one of the following:

  • 2-em1 dash, to indicate missing letters. Thus if the missing place was Berkshire, one could write ————shire. (You'll have to pretend that the length of each of the dashes is 2-em. The HTML entity set contains such a character, but it doesn't render in my browser.) Opinion differs on the spacing between 2-em dashes. Some recommend no spacing (so you'd see a solid horizontal line); some recommend a hair space2 (so you'd be able to count the missing letters).
  • 3-em dash, to indicate a whole word omitted. To disguise the letter count, the publisher might have considered Berk such a word and rendered the place as ———shire. (Again, you'll have to pretend that the three dashes form a single horizontal line of length 3-em, since my browser won't render the 3-em dash entity.)

———

  1. An em is a typographic measure equal to the point size of the font. Historically, this was the width of a capital M in a font.
  2. A hair space is a narrow spacing character, shorter than a thin space, which is one-fifth of an em.
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I think the point in this case was to avoid offending any particular real-life officer. Mr. Wickham is a very disreputable character, and there were probably a number of disreputable characters among any reasonably sized group of real-life officers. So if she had named Cheshire, Berkshire, Shropshire, Yorkshire, or some other county, there might have been speculation that Mr. Wickham was modeled after some particular officer stationed there.

So she used ———shire.

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