Make A(n En) Dash

I’m busy getting my resumé sent out. I laugh out loud sometimes when I’m tailoring my resumé to specific companies and job ads — the use of key words is so transparent.

But it’s time for a quick editing lesson. I was reading an article by former NDP leader Jim Broadbent yesterday, when I came across this:

Canada must promote greater tax fairness. First, we should act on the long-standing position of anti-child poverty groups that the maximum level of income-tested child benefits should be raised to cover the full cost of raising children.

When I got to anti-child poverty groups, I stopped and thought, Huh, there are poverty groups that are against children? Well, I guess that’s smart, seeing as how costly the little buggers are. I wonder how the group promotes…

Yeah, you get the idea. A good copy editor would have caught this mistake and avoided the confusion for the reader. What is missing? The en-dash, so called because it is the length of a capital N. It provides clarity where a hyphen doesn’t, such as in this case.

A two-word phrase, such as child poverty, requires the en-dash when a prefix or suffix is added to the phrase. The en-dash makes clear that the prefix or suffix is attached to the phrase, instead of to only one word: anti–child poverty.

Here are some other examples: high school–fundraising, anti–speed limit, pro–book publishing. With hyphens instead of en-dashes, we’d have school fundraising on drugs, limits that are against speed, and publishing that favours books. Heh. I guess that last one isn’t the best example.

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