There are those punctuation marks people always confuse, misuse, and therefore try to generally avoid, e.g. the apostrophe. Many of its uses are indeed archaic, though not all. And while people sometimes try to introduce new marks, they don’t often succeed. For example, consider the interrobang, a combo of an exclamation mark and question mark intended to convey rhetorical questioning and disbelief/surprise, I suppose.
Far more useful for me is this unassuming little band:
I introduce to you the em dash:
Yep. that’s my fave mark today! It is used to break up/pause/change thoughts in a sentence—much like a comma does—but with more impact and for longer text. So for instance, you could write either of these sentences:
“I like writing, though sometimes it can be a lot of work, because it lets me organize the sometimes jumbled ideas in my mind.”
“I like writing—though sometimes it can be a lot of work—because it lets me organize the sometimes jumbled ideas in my mind.”
Can you sense the somewhat stronger switch in the second sentence? There’s a subtlety of difference in what’s expressed too. I often use em dashes to insert longer bits of info that would otherwise be difficult to read and mentally retain using commas. It kind of allows for a sentence within a sentence, without having to link clauses and all that messiness, while still retaining clarity—I hope.
To use it yourself, the shortcut is Alt+0151. Typing those numbers while holding the Alt key will insert the underutilized, misunderstood, exceptionally useful em dash.
In case you’ve never seen one, here’s the interrobang:
Upcoming post: When to use the even more obscure en dash!