John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, and now at

Monday, March 8, 2010

Curse you, Microsoft Word

A couple of readers have complained that the ¾ symbol is showing up in these blog posts, and one suggests that they are occurring where I use the em dash. That surmise is correct.

The em dash is the one on Microsoft Word’s insert symbol menu -- Word 2007, not the earlier version I had been using -- and apparently the Blogger software does not recognize it. (I realize just now that Microsoft Word has used its symbol for the 3/4 fraction, and God knows how that will appear to you.) So now I am reduced to typing in two hyphens if I want a dash, as if I were still working on a damn typewriter.

It’s hard enough to make these dispatches intelligible without having to wrestle with inconsistencies in software. So I will consult with someone more knowledgeable about the quirks of Microsoft Word and the Blogger software – just about anyone is – to see whether some resolution of the matter is possible without my having to go back to school and earn a degree in programming. (Now I notice that something, probably the damn auto-correct feature that I forgot to shut off is converting some of the double hyphens, but not all, to en dashes. Grrrr.)

In the meantime, I may just stop using dashes altogether, which for many writers and all journalists would not be a bad idea. 


  1. There's HTML code you can use to insert it (or Blogger may have a special character menu you can use). You can insert the following into the HTML view of your posts, removing the space:

    & mdash;

  2. The internet code for an em dash is — I have Word set to replace a double hyphen with this code. This workd for me because almost all my writing is intended for online publishing.

  3. Testing:
    Em —
    En –
    hyphen -

    You might also want to consult

  4. The layman's explanation is that the computer code MS Word uses to display and save an em dash is — of course — not the code used by the Internet and much of the rest of the world.

    An alternative to using MS Word for composing your blog posts is to use Textile (, a free online tool that outputs both HTML you can paste into Blogger's HTML mode, and a correctly encoded version you can copy and paste into its standard editor.

    There are simple examples along the right side of the page for most formatting; to make em dashes, use two hyphens.

  5. I think you can also use alt + 0150 for an en dash and alt + 0151 for an em dash. Let me try it:

  6. I use the ANSI code for em dashes. Hold the ALT key and (on the number pad; this won't work on the number rows) type 0151, or 1050 if you want the en dash. If you're using a laptop, you may have to set your NumLock key and hold a function key as you type. But this seems to be pretty stable, by which I mean that it works in Word and HTML and other software reliably.

    Or maybe it's an ASCII code. I'm an educator, trained as a journalist, for some reason teaching tech writing to petroleum engineers. I lost track of computerese a long time ago.

  7. Word's auto correct will turn two dashes into an en dash if you type them in a sequence immediately followed by a letter or sequence of letters immediately followed by a space or some punctuation mark.

    If you type a space after the second dash before you type the next letter, the two dashes will remain two dashes. They will also remain two dashes if you go back and insert them between two words that are already in place.

    I have been known to exploit this if I need an en dash in a place where Word would not normally convert two dashes to an en dash. In those circumstances I often type two dashes immediately followed by a single letter, immediately followed by a space. Upon which Word turns the two dashes into an en dash, I delete the unwanted character and space, and go on about my merry way. I find this to be a quicker way to get an en dash than Insert->Symbol.

    Doesn't help you with HTML, but it can't hurt to understand why some of your double dashes are becoming en dashes and some are not.

  8. I use ALT+0151 frequently (probably more frequently that I should) for em dashes and it works for *most* applications. One thing you have to be very careful with, though, is copying from Word and pasting into another application. Word's freaky code doesn't always translate the way you intended.

  9. You can also use Windows Live Writer with Blogger, I believe.

    John, inserting a symbol from the menu/ribbon uses a special symbol font. What you want instead is the ASCII/Unicode/HTML code for an em-dash, which is 151. There are multiple ways to insert an em-dash in Word, but they can have different results, who knew. The infallible Wikipedia has an explanation in its article on dashes:

    (Look for the bulleted point about Microsoft Word.)

    A black-belt tip is that you can customize AutoCorrect so that it substitutes whatever you like when you type in a double hyphen. In case, you know, you have nothing better to do than to learn the intricacies of Word. :-)

  10. On a mac, option-shift-dash makes em dash, not sure if that will help.

  11. Instead of a — you can write "& #8212;" without quotation marks and without the space and an m-dash will appear. It's a bit longer than writing a single character, but this way there'll be no surprises later on.

  12. The comments above are more than I ever wanted to know about computerized communication!

    My question for you: You have done something I have wondered about for some time now. When you use the word "damn" as you have used it, is "damn" the correct spelling, or should it be "damned." Not a criticism...a serious inquiry.

  13. This is one thing I love about WordPress—three hyphens are converted into an em dash, and two into an en dash.

  14. This is why I feel that blogging calls for a text editor, not a word processor. It seems that Word is cheating by changing fonts when you use the "Inset Symbol" function, and such antics aren't possible when dealing with plain text.

    Incidentally, the 150 and 151 codes are neither ANSI nor ASCII; they represent the positions of the dashes in Windows code page 1252. However, since Unicode effectively has nothing there, and Windows is so ubiquitous, the distinction doesn't matter much in practice. Upon encountering such codes, most Internet software simply sighs, assumes the data is coming from a Windows PC, and automatically translates it to the corresponding Unicode characters¹.

    ¹ Namely U+2013 EN DASH and U+2014 EM DASH, decimal 8211 and 8212 respectively. If you use an HTML entry mode instead of a rich text mode, you can, as minorexceptions said, enter the desired characters as numeric HTML entities: – and — or – and — .

  15. This article is probably more than you wanted to know about the intricacies of HTML characters, but is quite a good guide: