Don’t be confused by the hyphen and the m-dash or n-dash
Interestingly, although these two punctuation marks look almost the same, they work in very opposite ways:
In my previous sentence, I could have got away with just using a full stop after the word “creature” (or period, for American readers – again, no reference to biology intended here!)
But that seems boring and unimaginative to me: the colon keeps me interested, it tells me there’s more to come.
You’ve read it and re-read it, you left it a day or so to see it with a fresh eye, you even got your partner to proofread it. And before that, you were responding to the red and green wiggly lines screaming at you from beneath your typing. But, you wonder, does it really matter?
So you publish it. It’s your latest blog or a new page on your website. Or it’s a novel that you’ve finally, FINALLY, managed to send to a publishing house.
And then the shame!
When you open up that draft article again, you will have “slept on it”; the images in your mind will have developed, like photographs, the words you wrote about them will have dried on the paper, the file you created will have been safely saved.
“I can’t afford an editor.”
“True, I make a few mistakes, but not enough to need one.”
“That’s just my style, it’s the way I write.”
“I’m going for a casual, more talky style.”
“Nobody will notice – most people aren’t as picky as you.”
Probably the most common reason for hoping to do without an editor to copy-edit is
I recently spent some time gathering photos and memories to compile an Order of Service when my life went on hold for 2 weeks after my old dad passed away. It wasn’t easy to pare down the choices and to select just a few images to best represent our dear old dad. I sat with the graphic designer at the printer’s for the best part of an hour, as he’d broadly said the content, layout and colours were entirely my choice, there was no right or wrong.
Helpfully, he showed me a selection of other Orders of Service that had been produced for previous customers. Some were very simple, with just one or two photos at the most, others bore a complete collage of pictures of the dear departed at every stage in his long life. Some had poems, some bore the words to a hymn. Most were respectful and sad, some were a celebration of the life the person had led, and were cheerful and far from morbid.
I was spoilt for choice. I wanted it all. But finally I knew just how I was going to have it designed. A simple, recent photo of Dad on the front, surrounded by his rose garden; on the inside, we would add the order in which the service would be conducted. On the third page were reproduced the words to a very special song that were sure to bring a tear to the eye, and finally, some old black and white snaps of Dad on the back page.
Last of all, the text needed to be added. On the front, his name, the date he was born, the date he died. On the back, an invitation to the wake. And in the middle, I could add something personal. For inspiration, I again sifted through the little pile of examples – and gasped as my proofreader’s eyes fell upon the word “Urology“!
My insatiable appetite for proofreading and catching errors is shared by some like-minded contributors on LinkedIn (thank you all). Some pointed out that using an apostrophe + S to denote plurals can be a matter of which style guide you prefer to follow, or indeed whether you are using UK or US English.
American examples that were cited included “recite your ABC’s”, “dot your I’s and cross your T’s” which I suppose I can grudgingly understand, and can also be used in dates like “the 1980’s”, although I still don’t see the necessity for that.
But the one that finally convinced me personally that you should NOT use the apostrophe to indicate a plural was this one:
I feel so hugely defensive and have a fierce need to protect it – there is actually a Protection Society for it with thousands of members!
It’s only tiny, but such a clever little thing. Sometimes it sits toward the back, and sometimes right at the back, as it doesn’t demand too much attention, and makes no noise at all. In fact it’s so quiet that people have started to ignore it completely – with devastating consequences!
Mostly it helps us out with two important things: it can help us with ownership, or possession. The other thing is it reminds us that something’s missing.
What the blazes am I talking about? A yapping chihuahua? A 21st century memory chip?
I am tickled to find there exists such a thing as “National Punctuation Day”! A competition is set to send in a short essay in three sentences, using all 13 of the following punctuation marks: apostrophe, brackets, colon, comma, dash, ellipsis, exclamation point, hyphen, parentheses, period, question mark, quotation mark, and semicolon. You may use a punctuation mark more than…