The Year of the Em Dash

I admit it. The first thing I thought of when noticing what year was coming was—"em dash". The unicode character 2014 is the em dash, and as I am wont to type it in manually it is practically synonymous to me [1].

We symbolic creatures like to embue meaning into all things. While I am not superstitious, I enjoy the Rorschach test–like nature of divination. If I ask myself to make a connection between the changing of the year right now and the character em dash, it reflects my state—and nothing more—but this does not diminish its value.

In contrast with last year's character—the en dash—which is supposed to be used in place of 'to' in spans such as 2010–2016, or as a hyphen between open compounds, as in "computational linguistics–machine learning conference", the em dash is used informally in places of commas, colons, or semicolons for emphasis, interruption, or an abrupt change of thought. So I'm expecting a year of diversion, a relevant but indirect route, with an ultimate return to the path previously intended.

We have been stuck in a run of dash characters since 2010, the year of the hyphen, and won't escape until 2016, the year of the double vertical line (‖), which, I suppose, will entail some sort of parallelism.

Happy New Year!

[1] Ctrl-shift-u 2014 will do it in many applications. To enable this in emacs, put "(global-set-key (kbd "C-S-u") 'quoted-insert)" in your .emacs file.


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