Lionel Schriver’s piece in the Standpoint called Dashed Bad Form is a witty affair, comparing and contrasting the semicolon and the em dash. Alas, the self-describing nature of the article is completely lost in the online version—though presumably not in the print edition—having suffered the all-too-common fate of emdashculation; every instance of an em dash in the article has been converted into a plain ol’ hyphen. Oh, the irony! …proper irony too—not that confused Alanis Morissette kind.
It’s probably a CMS issue. But, hey, it’s as good an opportunity as any to point to the classic article on A List Apart, The Trouble With EM ’n EN (and Other Shady Characters). It’s almost eight(!) years old now and I’d still consider it required reading.
The article makes a brief mention of the soft hyphen (
­) but back then, browser support was pretty shoddy. Browser support was still pretty shoddy when Richard wrote Hyphens a soft problem three years later.
But now the situation isn’t too shabby. Richard’s test case is faring a lot better now in Safari, Firefox and Opera. Internet Explorer (surprisingly) has been doing it right since version 6.
Admittedly, using a soft hyphen is a royal pain in the ass compared to having a browser just figure it out automatically but until hyphenation is sorted out in CSS3—which might be quite some time—we’re stuck with inserting the entity by hand.