There is a motivational speech which I'm having trouble understanding. Here's the phrase:

There are two days either side of a dash, make sure that dash is not empty.

What's the meaning of it?

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's an obscure cultural reference, not an established idiomatic usage that would be recognised by many native Anglophones. To me it also sounds a bit unnatural to use days there rather than dates, even though I've never encountered either version before this question. Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 16:28
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    @FumbleFingers I agree that this isn't a widely known English idiom, but I don't agree that it is all that obscure (I also agree re dates vs days). I have heard at least the idea (if not the exact phrase) many times in my life, in church sermons and such.
    – BradC
    Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 17:26
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    We don't have a migration path for it, but IMHO this question belongs on SE Puzzling, not ELU. Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 17:40
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    Searching for "sermon make the dash count" returns many on-topic results, including a 1996 poem, a philanthropic organization of the same name, and many church-specific pages or sermons. See also "living the dash" and "the dash between the dates". Most results are in the religious/inspirational community.
    – BradC
    Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 17:41
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    Arguably this question is about an uncommon meaning of the word "dash". The number of Google hits suggest the usage is sufficiently established to justify its legitimacy, at which point this question is most assuredly on topic.
    – Sled
    Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 20:03

1 Answer 1


It's an allegorical reference to a tombstone inscription:

Jimmy Stewart's Tombstone

Between the date of your birth and the date of your death is all the rest of your life, represented visually by the dash between the dates on the tombstone.

It is encouraging you to "make your life matter".

This phrase itself isn't an English idiom, per se, but the allegory is widely known in the religious/inspirational community.

This tweet may be the version that you heard (thanks, @mahmudkoya), which makes more grammatical sense than your original quote:

One day it will be over. There will be 2 dates, either side of a dash. Make sure that dash is not empty. - Fearless Motivation

Some further references and variations:

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    Outstanding catch and outstandingly sleek answer. Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 17:21
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    Thanks, @YosefBaskin. The exact phrase itself might not be a widely known idiom per se, but it is a very common sermon illustration, and I've heard it many times in my life.
    – BradC
    Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 17:28
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    "One day it will be over. There will be 2 dates, either side of a dash. Make sure that dash is not empty."twitter.com/fearlessmotivat/status/764886090989744128?lang=en Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 17:50
  • Well done! That comma before "either" is essential (see @mahmudkoya's comment). Otherwise, there are 4 days / dates in total, two on the left and two on the right. I've taken the liberty of adding mahmud's find into your answer together with the 2 dates vs 4 days note. Please feel free to roll it back or to edit it further if you wish.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 21:59
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    @Lawrence I like the quote, especially since it fixes the grammar in the original question. I'll just blend it in a little more.
    – BradC
    Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 22:07

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