[texhax] The Em Rule, a Question of Style

Paul Isambert zappathustra at free.fr
Tue May 18 18:13:06 CEST 2010

According to Bringhurst's /Elements of Typographic Styles/ (p.80):

"Use the en dashes - rather than close-set em dashes or spaced hyphens - 
to set off phrases.
[...] The em dash is the nineteenth-century standard, still prescribed 
in many editorial style books, but the em dash is too long for use with 
the best text faces. Like the oversized space between sentences [i.e. 
the increased \spacefactor after strong ponctuation marks], it belongs 
to the padded and corseted aesthetic of Victorian typography.
Used as a phrase marker - thus - the en dash is set with a normal word 
space either side."

For what it's worth, my position is that the em dash is indeed ugly, and 
hinders readability when set spaceless, as if linking two words instead 
of distinguishing phrases. And I'd personnally put the unbreakable space 
after the dash, because it looks stranded at the end of a line, since 
it's opening the following phrase rather than closing the previous one, 
somewhat like a left parenthesis.
(In Bringhurst's citation, I used spaced hyphens. Shame on me.)

As for the \mbox, I can't see why it would be better than a good ol' 
penalty plus space, i.e. a non-breakable space.


Philip G. Ratcliffe a écrit :
>> I read somewhere that the em rule should preferably be prefixed with 
>> a non-breakable space character ( ~ ), mainly for stylistic reasons, 
>> however, there was no mention of a ~ suffix to ensure that a line 
>> break doesn't occur immediately after the em dash.  Would a 
>> conscientious typesetter place a ~ on both sides of the em dash, or a 
>> prefix ~ is the only stylistic requirement? Further, what would the 
>> list think of the idea of using \mbox to make sure that a line break 
>> doesn't appear on the left or either side of the em rule/
> Many, if not most, style guides suggest that there should be NO space
> surronding the em dash.
> Cheers,  Phil
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