Friday, June 13, 2014

Atheism and the En Dash

There was an odd article in the Guardian today which argued that "there are no atheist babies". Specifically, the author took issue with a Richard Dawkins quote: "When you say X is the fastest growing religion, all you mean is that X people have babies at the fastest rate. But babies have no religion."

'Atheism' can mean either a rejection of the existence of deities (explicit atheism) or, more inclusively, an absence of belief in the existence of deities (implicit atheism). The article is odd because it argues that babies are not explicitly atheist, while Dawkins was only saying that babies are implicitly atheist.

But my main quibble with the article is the paragraph below:

Not one but two consecutive lines begin with an en dash. I really think that a self-respecting newspaper should precede a parenthetical en dash with a non-breaking space so that a line can end – but never begin – with an en dash. In HTML, it is coded as  – followed by an ordinary space.

In some of my old posts you might come across a spaced en dash not preceded by a non-breaking space, but there is an explanation for that. Anyway, I must not get complacent; I learn new things all the time. In a recent post I wanted to use double quotes followed by a left parenthesis, and I realised that some browsers might insert a soft return between the two punctuation marks. In case the information is of use to anyone, I got around it by coding the text thus: <nobr>"(S)he</nobr> did it!"

Edit: I have just learnt from Tommy that <nobr> has been deemed a non-standard element, but the same effect can be achieved with CSS:
<span style="white-space:nowrap;">"(S)he</span> did it!"
Like I said, I learn new things all the time.