Sunday, September 9, 2007

Instructions for the Technically Cautious III

About a year ago I decided to learn a thing or two about web design. I don't know why—the internet is pretty far afield of my normal interests. I don't find it as disappointing as my brother does (who became permanently disaffected with it when he couldn't find any useful information on the old 'net for "jumping a rail" and running away hobo-style), but I do have my qualms.

And I also have my joys. I see the internet largely as a repository for unproofed text written by those uninterested in the finer points of punctuation. Therefore, those of us (shortly may we live) who take pride in our semicolons and our m-dashes can feel a little more special by using them properly in such an arena. Add to this the fact that most of the internet doesn't seem to allow for things like an e with an accent mark above it or a true m-dash (we usually just double-hyphen everything), and the niche for people like me gets smaller and more pleasantly elite. For there is a way to maintain the standards of proper punctuation even on something as unruly as the internet:

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you...the ESCAPE CODE!

An escape code is a way to use a special character in your text without screwing with the program that reads the source. Let me put it this way: a web page is really just a sheet of commands that the computer reads in order to display what you see. Not only does it contain the text you will see, but it has lots of lines of special instructions. Lots of these instructions use the funnier marks we want to use in our writing, so we need another way of telling the computer to insert them into out text. The escape code does just that.

Suppose you want to put an m-dash in you sentence—like this (an m-dash is a really long dash). When you type out your blog entry, you type an ampersand and then "mdash" and then a semicolon. You put it touching the words on either side, just as you would the dash itself. It looks like this:

I was walking down the street and—BAM—I got blindsided by an m-dash.

When the computer reads this it displays this:

I was walking down the street and—BAM—I got blindsided by an m-dash.

Because an ampersand (&) is part of the code, you need a code to write one. It's &. Crazy, huh? An é is é. A £ is £. It's totally sweet. You can find complete lists of all the escape codes by just googling "html escape codes" or something similar. You can show people you care.

[à á â ã ä æ è é ê ë ì í î ï ò ó ô ö õ ù ú û ü and sometimes ý ÿ]

So what I'm really saying here is that not only am I a grammar snob, I'm a total nerd. I just wanted you to know.


Katherine said...

Wow, thanks. I've been trying for ages to figure out how to use dashes in my blog posts. I usually end up copying and pasting a dash from Word (when I'm feeling meticulous) or substituting a double hyphen (my internal editor dies a little bit every time).

Janssen said...

Now if only I could find a way to get my computer to correctly capitalize all text on the Internet . . . how I loathe reading "i" for "I."

Megan Zurcher said...

I found my way to your blog after Amanda discovered mine and left me a comment. Seeing how you like that blog about overheard lines I think you may also like It's basically the same thing.