M Dashes and N Dashes

For a long time, I wrote using Courier for its unprocessed typewriter feel, then I switched to Courier Prime because it’s designed for screens, not for whacking ink onto paper. (See this announcement by John August if you’re interested in the differences between Courier and Courier Prime.)

Courier and Courier Prime are monospaced fonts. Like pre-IBM Selectric typewriters, all characters and punctuation take the same amount of line space thus the great one or two spaces between sentences debate. (I use one space, but in this post White-Out, digital find-and-replace era, who cares?) However, I do care about m dashes and n dashes. Courier bothers me because those dashes are the same length (to my eye, anyway)! In Courier Prime, the m dash is slightly longer, but the n dash and hyphen are the same length (again, to my eye)! In the spirit of keeping the unprocessed feel, I used two hyphens to indicate an m dash, and in the same spirit, turned off automated m dash substitution; n dashes were uncommon, not worth worrying about, until . . . 1

I dove into tinkering together an eccentric story style I’m calling a story script2. Like script formats, I wanted to send she, he, they, it said, to the dustbin and flag who was talking every time someone talked, like scripts. I eventually arrived at starting every run of a character’s unbroken dialog with their name (initial cap; all caps was too loud), followed by an n dash. The n dash was back; now what? I tried double hyphening n dashed and triple hyphening m dashes. Before compiling a more finished PDF reader’s draft I could do a quick find and replace remembering to do the m dash first! for obvious reasons and then reversing that after making the PDF to get back to the unprocessed feel. But this was getting complicated; if only there was a monospaced font with the feel of Courier that included discernibly different lengths for hyphens, n dashes, and m dashes.⁠

There is. The iA Writer developers wanted to solve a different problem with monospaced fonts: They didn’t like the way M, m, W, and w were squished to fit that single monospace. They created iA Writer Duospace. Duospace because M, m, W, and w now take a space and a half. You can read all about iA Writer Duospace here.3 Perhaps as an unintended side effect of their obsession with M and W, they made room to give hyphen, n dash, and m dash distinct lengths. Which leads too . . .

Since I can now see the differences, I would prefer to add the correct punctuation but I find it easier to type double and triple hyphens than using fiddly key combinations to type m and n dashes. I made custom substitutions: two hyphens change to an n dash, three to an m dash. Works great⁠—except it’s finicky and doesn’t always work.

  1. Look at my lovely fat ellipsis. That will be another topic, for another day—no promises. 
  2. I doubt this is an original notion, but either way, another topic for another day. 
  3. They went on to create iA Writer Quattro, with four distinct space lengths. I’ll let you Google that since it’s not what I’m using. 

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