What is the name for the long dashes that sometimes replace the inner letters of a name in older printed texts, and what is their purpose?

Example of long dashes

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

  • Interesting that in the first line where they appear ("Dutches of Boujou D--s M--h") they seem to be set as narrow dashes, or even hyphens.
    – e100
    Jan 23, 2014 at 9:55
  • 1
    The Dash of Pretension, aka the Soupçon of Superciliousness. Jan 23, 2014 at 10:48
  • Given that it is likely letterpressed, those very well could just be rules. They may not necessarily translate into a modern ASCII character.
    – DA01
    Jan 23, 2014 at 16:34

2 Answers 2


As plainclothes has said, the dash is composed of several em-dashes. One might call it a long dash...

Dickinson is best known for writing brief poems, often untitled, consisting of short lines peppered with long dashes, which mark her out as a more modern voice among her contemporary 19th-century poets. [Daily Telegraph]

...or perhaps an anonymisation dash, which makes it clear it blanks out most of a name and gives more indication of its length than simply long.

The purpose is explained in the Wikipedia article linked to your image, Roman à clef: it's a crude anonymisation technique.

In the novel, the character called Horatio is identified with the actual Lord Peterborough; and Endymion is fairly obviously Lady Manchester, but it doesn't actually say that.

[This question is perhaps more suited to ELU.SE.]


Em dash. It takes up the full body width of the font.

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