"Oh, you mean a centered dot, the math symbol?" I asked.
No, the double-dot, they replied.
"You mean over a letter, like the German umlaut?" I asked.
Finally the young man I was speaking with typed a colon on the screen for me to see. "You know, like this," he said.
I was astonished. I had never heard anyone call a colon that before. And in fact, there is no such word as double-dot. The same editor also described the "dot-comma" (;) and the "double-dash" (--). Neither of those is a word, either.
Aside from the anthropological observation that groups working in isolation will eventually develop a unique dialect of their own, I pondered the inefficiency of making up your own vocabulary for common items. Along those lines, one of the punctuation vocabulary mistakes I love to hate is the use of "dash" instead of "hyphen."
The hyphen is the shortest centered-horizontal-line-punctuation mark (-). It is used to join compound words, such as double-decker. Only the longer marks are rightly called dashes: the en dash and the em dash. The en dash is used in typesetting for ranges of things, like page numbers. The em dash is the long dash used to punctuate sentences. Two hyphens in a row are used to represent the em dash in situations (such as typing on a typewriter--and when using the software in which this newsletter is created) where the technology does not allow for the em dash.
Vocabulary slippage is not limited to that one isolated group of editors. I find myself allowing drift between internet words (blahblah-dot-com) and punctuation words. I routinely hear myself say dot now instead of point, as in "thirty-three dot five" (33.5), and who hasn't verbalized an ellipsis mark as "dot-dot-dot"?
Nevertheless, in the world of editing and typography, it is worth knowing the actual names of all of the dots and tittles we use to express language in print. For my part, I will be enunciating into the mirror, "thirty-three POINT five, thirty-three POINT five...."
About the Author: Jennie Ruby is a veteran IconLogic trainer and author with titles such as "Editing with Word 2003 and Acrobat 7" and "Editing with MS Word 2007" to her credit. She is a publishing professional with more than 20 years of experience in writing, editing and desktop publishing.