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Old 06-13-2008, 10:58 PM   #1
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Typesetters of the world - ARISE !

subtitle: emdashes

Before I got my electric reader, I reads lots of complaints about poor line wrap and hyphenation - specifically lack of same. After spending a lot of hours I can see the problem clearly. On one hand, my extensive computer and HI background makes me sort of used to the ugliness. But when I look at it objectively I discover the following. The problem isn't going to be solved anytime soon. But the biggest single culprit is emdashes. Typesetters put them between two words with no spacing. Therefore the simpleminded line-wrap software will never break at this point. It won't totally solve the problem, but you book creators need to ponder the following dilema. You could either remain purests on this issue or you could bend to the limitations of the technology and make it easier on the human readers.
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Old 06-13-2008, 11:24 PM   #2
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That's not true. Mobipocket splits at the emdash. (I think. I'm not entirely sure how an emdash is different from a hyphen.) For instance:

word-word-word-word-word-word-word-word-word-word-word

will appear on the page as:

word-
word-
word-
word-
word-
word-word-word-word-word-word

if 30 characters is the width of the screen.
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Old 06-14-2008, 12:13 AM   #3
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I too share your frustrations with the use of the emdash (as well an the endash.) I tend to format the emdash with a space both before and after the emdash. It was the house style at a publisher I worked for in the early 70s. In many ways the publisher predated the modern electronic reader in that he did not like breaking words at the end of the line even if it resulted in excessive spaces in a justified line. (He also experimented with ragged right formatting for a while.) We also used full lines and never wrapped the text around graphics. (A lot like I format my ebooks posted here.)
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Old 06-14-2008, 04:42 AM   #4
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I'd say the culprit is not em-dashes, but the "simpleminded line-wrap".

I'm not a native English reader, so I may not be the best one to speak about English typography, but I have the feeling the most common styles are using em-dashes without spaces or using en-dashes, which are shorter, with spaces around.
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Old 06-14-2008, 05:24 AM   #5
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I'd say the culprit is not em-dashes, but the "simpleminded line-wrap".
This is true but we have to work with what we got.

I too, always insert a space before and after an em dash except where it occurs at the end of a sentence.

I believe en dashes are used to show a range of something so should not be used instead of an em dash.

Ellipses can also be a problem and I find publishers are inconsistent when using them. I do a search and replace with a space after them. Again, no need for a space at the end of a sentence.
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Old 06-24-2008, 05:08 AM   #6
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It's so nice to see someone being practical about this issue, rather than 'fundamentalistically' insisting on no spaces around m-dashes. Styles are not set in stone, they have to change with the medium, and I bet there was a time when this was a new and revolutionary style, too.

I have a line wrap issue of my own. Ellipses styled as on typewriters. You know; space-dot-space-dot-space-dot-space . . . You see it often in fan fiction, especially in older fandoms with older writers.
Unless you put in non-breaking spaces in the html code, they wrap! And it's ugly. Why do people still insist on them? Either use a code formatted ellipsis or even go as far suggested on Wikipedia; three dots without spaces. Simple, and works every time.

Phew! felt good to get that off my chest
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Old 12-20-2008, 01:41 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Moonraker View Post
This is true but we have to work with what we got.

I too, always insert a space before and after an em dash except where it occurs at the end of a sentence.
Not really. If 'what you got' produces results of a quality you cannot accept, you also have the choice of using something else.

Inserting ordinary spaces around em dashes produces a fairly ugly result in general: the space can become far too big (especially with poor line-breaking algorithms). And even when the spaces stay reasonably small, the overall space still is too large for the intended effect. The length of the em dash is not unimportant -- adding two spaces on either side makes it into a considerably more eyestopping separation than it should.

A better choice may be to use whatever special-width spaces are available -- I've seen zero-width spaces used to good effect.

A more practical approach may be to avoid em-dashes, and instead use en-dashes -- they are better with word spacing on both sides.

While I remember -- if your choice of spacing fail to make the end of a sentence clear to the reader, you have failed as a typesetter. If you use word spaces around dashes, a dash at the end of a sentence requires special treatment so as not to confuse the reader into believing that the next sentence should be considered part of the previous one. The standard spacing rules for em dashes don't lead to such confusion -- if you alter them, you have to take on and manage the consequences as well.

An extra space at the end may do the trick: as long as you take the precaution of avoiding dashes at the end of lines. If you cannot do so, ... again, if the tool you work with doesn't allow you to do a proper job, you put it away, and use something better.

Quote:
I believe en dashes are used to show a range of something so should not be used instead of an em dash.
Often, but that is because en dash is more of a tie between the numbers on each side, while the em dash has a somewhat different function. It's not because there's some sacred rule about it -- it is because it works optically.
You can't add spaces around it, and still expect it to work.
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Old 12-20-2008, 01:56 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by ath View Post
A better choice may be to use whatever special-width spaces are available -- I've seen zero-width spaces used to good effect.
I've tried using different kind of spaces, but at least with the Cybook and whatever font I was trying at the moment I could only get:

a) normal spaces: line break possible, stretchable when justified.

b) non-breaking spaces: line break forbidden, constant width.

Other kinds of spaces (thin, zero-width, etc.) would either be displayed as one of the above or as some kind of "error" symbol, like a rectangle, a "?", or whatever.

PS. Now that I think of it, that might have been before I fixed a problem I was having with html2mobi, regarding the preservation of non-breaking spaces... But I think I tried with HTML files too.

Last edited by Jellby; 12-20-2008 at 01:59 PM.
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Old 12-25-2008, 09:36 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nate the great View Post
That's not true. Mobipocket splits at the emdash. (I think. I'm not entirely sure how an emdash is different from a hyphen.) For instance:

word-word-word-word-word-word-word-word-word-word-word

will appear on the page as:

word-
word-
word-
word-
word-
word-word-word-word-word-word

if 30 characters is the width of the screen.
No, that's not true. MobiPocket (the Gen3's implementation of it, at least) will break a line at a hyphen, but it will not break a line at an em-dash.
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Old 12-25-2008, 12:50 PM   #10
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No, that's not true. MobiPocket (the Gen3's implementation of it, at least) will break a line at a hyphen, but it will not break a line at an em-dash.
Which is often wrong to do since it introduces an uncertainty. Good typesetting programs like TeX try to avoid this.
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Old 12-25-2008, 12:55 PM   #11
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You mean it's wrong to break a line at an em-dash? Why?
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Old 12-25-2008, 03:58 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
No, that's not true. MobiPocket (the Gen3's implementation of it, at least) will break a line at a hyphen, but it will not break a line at an em-dash.
I thought that too, but just yesterday I found it would not only break a word at an em-dash, but add a hyphen to it!

So I got something like:

with the same large drooping moustache—-
decidedly worn.
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Old 12-25-2008, 04:22 PM   #13
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You mean it's wrong to break a line at an em-dash? Why?
I think we have discussed it before here. TeX do not do it unless you force it to do it. The reason as I understand it is that the hyphen in the word disappear (mentally) and it will be harder to read the word plus some word will possibly change meaning if you break it at a hyphen. Maybe a bigger problem in other languages than English.
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Old 12-25-2008, 04:33 PM   #14
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I think we have discussed it before here. TeX do not do it unless you force it to do it. The reason as I understand it is that the hyphen in the word disappear (mentally) and it will be harder to read the word plus some word will possibly change meaning if you break it at a hyphen. Maybe a bigger problem in other languages than English.
Sorry, Tommy, I think we're talking about different things. I'm not talking about hyphens, but about dashes.

Eg, A sentence taken at random from "Oliver Twist":

Quote:
And there was the body—mere flesh and blood, nor more—but such flesh, and so much blood!
Mobipocket will not put in a line break between "body" and "mere" - it considers "body—mere" to be a single "word". The only time it will break there would be in circumstances where it decides to "hyphenate" the line and then, as Jellby says, it will add a hyphen so you get:

....body—-
mere .....

which just looks silly.

If you want Mobi to do line breaks at dashes - which most typographers would want - you have to put spaces around the dashes and say:


Quote:
And there was the body — mere flesh and blood, nor more — but such flesh, and so much blood!
... and that looks wrong to me!

IMHO Mobi should consider a dash to be a "white space character" when it comes to considering where to break a line.
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Old 12-25-2008, 04:40 PM   #15
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I was unclear. I commented your statement "No, that's not true. MobiPocket (the Gen3's implementation of it, at least) will break a line at a hyphen," so you were talking about hyphens also.

In Swedish we use spaces around emdashes. In TeX I prefer to put a thin space before and after an emdash. Breaking a line at an emdash seems to me to be bad typography. It is something that stands out and will attract attention.
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