When watching The Man who Laughs (1928), at 40:14 the line, also pictured below, "Hey — — we saw her first!" appears.

enter image description here

What does the use of a double em-dash signify here?

  • 4
    I would presume that the double-line presents a pause for emphasis. Feb 11, 2021 at 10:41
  • 1
    It seems to be a non-standard usage, although it's common to see shorter dashes combined to give a longer dash when the right symbol is not available. (Multiple em dashes can be used to indicate redaction, but that's not happening here.) thepunctuationguide.com/em-dash.html
    – Stuart F
    Feb 11, 2021 at 15:18
  • Don't confuse the spoken word with the best written word. Titles and subtitles show what characters said, but what people say can be, um, er, say, a mess, and still understandable. Feb 11, 2021 at 15:50
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    @John Go-Soco Or perhaps a pretty long pause to collect oneself while thinking of a suitable response (verbal or non-verbal?). But two sentences wouldn't work as well. // Representing interactions in the written word is difficult at the best of times. Feb 11, 2021 at 15:55

1 Answer 1


This is really only a partial answer; but I can say empirically say, from a Google image search for "intertitle" (the word for these word-signs-in-silent movies), that this was a common convention in intertitles. As to why, I can't do more than conjecture; one would need documentation of what the intertitle writers were thinking, or how audiences then understood it. Perhaps a historian of punctuation will show up to fill in that part of the answer. My guesses would be to make a longer pause to more closely mimic how the line would be spoken or narrated, differentiating a "normal" pause (one dash) from a "dramatic" pause (two dashes); or to ensure the viewers see the dash on less-than-perfect early projection machinery; or perhaps just a convention that caught on.

For anyone with ProQuest (or TandF) access, there's this academic article on intertitle conventions, might have more.

Selected examples:

There's this Paris 1920s video (no screenshot here) with multiple uses of multi-dashes, some double, some triple.

From Dracula (1931):

From Dracula (1931)Source

From The Navigator (1924):

From The Navigator (1924)Source (lots of spammy pop-ups, be forewarned)

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