Hyphens, En Dashes, Em Dashes
Q. In a recent Q&A the hyphens look like en dashes to me. Are they, and if they are, why?
A. You must be referring to the main entries for “fund-raiser” and “fund-raising” in the screenshot from the first printing of the 11th edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Those do look like en dashes, but they are presented that way for maximum legibility: for one thing, regular hyphens might be confused with the centered dots that indicate places where a hyphen may be added to divide a word at the end of a line. In other words, “fund–rais·er” is easier to interpret at a glance as a hyphenated term than “fund-rais·er” would be. For what it’s worth, at Merriam-Webster.com, the hyphens in main entries are really hyphens. For the entry words online, however, M-W uses the font Playfair Display, which has the advantage of featuring generously long hyphens. This matters a bit less in the online version of the dictionary, where suggested word division is shown on a separate line, below the main entry (and in a different font that happens to feature shorter hyphens). But as this screenshot from the definition for “self-conscious” shows, the extra-long hyphen is strikingly legible: