As this forum is for English usage, I am wondering if that would cover punctuation and typographic usage questions, such as "when is it appropriate to use an en dash versus an em dash?" Or "how widely recognized is the interrobang?"

If not, is there another stack that would be more suited to these questions.


  • We do sometimes answer these questions, and Writer.SE sometimes takes style questions along these lines. The two questions that you propose as examples are asked and answered here already, so make sure that you search the site before asking.
    – Kit Z. Fox Mod
    Dec 10, 2012 at 14:22
  • 2
    Absolutely I would. Those were just two of the clearest examples I could think of. Also, my experience has been that just because the question was asked—and answered—before doesn't mean it was entirely welcome. I like to avoid the mistakes of others. Thank you for the answer, however I do wonder if there's somewhere that takes questions like these more than just sometimes.
    – justin
    Dec 10, 2012 at 14:31
  • Any particular reason you wouldn't just Google something like that, though? You'll have better luck so long as you stick with questions that can't be readily answered...
    – J.R.
    Dec 11, 2012 at 0:31
  • I could also go to the shelf and pull down the Chicago Manual of Style. However, even CMoS leaves some issues up to discretion. Sometimes you want to know how a group of self-proclaimed and independently verified experts exercises that discretion. Learning the right answer only works when there's only one. Isn't that what SE is about?
    – justin
    Dec 11, 2012 at 0:54
  • 1
    Also, let's keep it on-topic. I asked a question about where to ask a type of question instead of waiting until I had a question and blindly posting it in the wrong place like an idiot.
    – justin
    Dec 11, 2012 at 0:57
  • This is my advice: If you could go to the bookshelf and pull down CMoS, then you should go to the bookshelf and pull down CMoS. If you still have a question, though, then you can ask here - but make sure you share what you found in the CMoS as part of your question. Generally speaking, questions that do a good job of sharing that prior research are well-received (they show that you have done some thorough research first), while questions that fail to mention prior research are often sharply downvoted (because they give the appearance that you're simply too lazy to go to the bookshelf).
    – J.R.
    Dec 11, 2012 at 18:29

2 Answers 2


On ELU, typographic usage is —well, it’s certainly not a “black-or-white” matter, but it’s too erratic to characterize as “grey”, which suggests some measure of uniformity. Perhaps »mottled« is the mot juste.

One problem is that punctuation isn’t really about language at all (Off Topic) — it’s about the presentation of language . . . except of course to the extent that it isn’t. Because even if it’s not strictly language it is semiotic : an system of arbitrary signs which convey, qualify, and (one hopes) clarify meaning. So — is it a proper topic for discussion on a forum about language? Our response here has historically been an emphatic “Sometimes”.

Another problem is that although punctuation is systematic and meaningful, there are a variety of systems and a variety of opinions about what meaning it conveys. Different disciplines (APA, MLA) and publishers enforce different rules, and for these the questioner can only be referred to the applicable General Reference. The ‘Oxford comma’ is mooted every few months around here (Exact Duplicate); the placement of commas before and after quotations is contentious (Not Constructive); and just about everybody has an idiosyncratic (perhaps we should call it idiographic, on the analogy of idiolectic) “system” of pointing. One very distinguished user here regularly edits postings to replace hyphens with em- and en-dashes (or em and en dashes) according to his own sense —endorsed, to be sure, by many eminent authorities— of what is semiotically fitting; but it appears that even he is constrained by his sensitive aesthetic sense to defy convention and surround em-dashes with spaces, because the em-dash in this site’s typeface is such a piddling, tentative little affair. Would discussion of his practice be a matter of “English Language and Usage”, or does it belong on the proposed Typography site? —Again, I fear the answer, if the question were raised, would be “Maybe”.

(And three-quarters of the users here would protest that that full stop should be moved inside the quotation marks.)

I’m afraid that no real answer can be returned to your question (which I guess makes it Not A Real Question!), and that all you can do is browse around the answers tagged “punctuation” and guess what sort of response any particular question is likely to excite —and then roll the dice.

  • Is there a reason for the oddly-spaced em-dashes?
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Dec 11, 2012 at 19:41
  • Thank you for a well reasoned, well articulated—albeit tentative—answer. You addressed most of what I was getting at. While punctuation and typographic usage are not the same as the usage of a language itself, those issues still exist as something of a symbiotic meta-language. So do these questions belong here or on Typograhy? I'm finding myself convinced towards the latter, unless you find a situation in which the two are inseparably intertwined.
    – justin
    Dec 11, 2012 at 20:28
  • @AndrewLeach Something I saw recently in an 18th-century book (can't remember what): parenthetical dashes employed as ellipses, and disjunctive dashes tied right, and I thought I'd see if anybody noticed. Dec 11, 2012 at 22:09

Questions about punctuation have been asked on EL&U, and they are accepted. The fact a grammar book normally has a part about comma splices, and run-on sentences tells me the argument is not totally off-topic on EL&U.
If the question is asked to know which writing style to use, you could consider asking the questions on Writers.

Considering the punctuation used in English, it is rather probable the question has been already asked on EL&U. If you are going to ask a question about punctuation, make a search first, to be sure you are not asking a duplicate question.
Bear in mind that the search could not find a question that is already asked because you are using stop words in your search. I would suggest searching between questions using specific tags, such as , or .

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