After some sternly worded exchanges, with many grammarians and wannabe English stylists weighing in, the B.A. Jersey Girl found an authoritative source that was able to bridge the gap between our competing positions and resolve the dispute. She discovered that Bryan Garner’s Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style acknowledged that while many style manuals follow the rule that always requires an apostrophe s to indicate a possessive, former journalists follow the Associated Press Style Manual and don’t add an apostrophe s when the word in question ends in s. In short, both sides have a basis for their opinion, so we shook and decided to leave that issue behind.
Alas, a new punctuation fight looms directly ahead. The virgin battleground involves something called an “em dash”—this super-long dash that, according to some grammarians, can be used as a substitute for a parentheses, can replace appositives that contain commas, and can be used to set off a sudden change in the direction of a sentence, among other uses. It’s called the “em dash” because the length of the dash is about the same width as a capital M.
I’m all for adding a little dash to writing, but I’m not a fan of the “em dash” because it’s too long and is used without spaces on either side. I’m a proponent of the dash that is formed with two hyphens and a space on both sides. I think it looks neater and more orderly, whereas the “em dash” looks like a spear that is impaling the neighboring words. I’m a fan of space in writing, and the “em dash” makes a sentence look crowded. I say tap the space bar, give your words space to breathe, and let the “em dash” be damned.