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When a hyphen is not a hyphen

The Tip of the Night for May 5, 2019 discussed hyphen-minuses, which look similar to hyphens but which are not actually the same character and will not be interpreted as such by Excel, Relativity, and other applications.

When parsing out Bates numbers to review, or just finalizing the Word version of a brief to be filed, you should also be on the lookout for non-breaking hyphens. In this example, we have two phrases which both contain dashes that, to the naked eye, appear to be the same character.

If you search for a hyphen in Word, it will find them both. However, if the same text is copied into NotePad:

. . . the dash in the first phrase disappears. If you copy the text into Excel you can see a small difference:

The dash in the second phrase is a little shorter and thicker. The Excel UNICODE formula for the dash from the first phrase shows its alt code to be 8209 - different from the alt code for a hyphen-minus, which is 0045, and different from a standard hyphen (alt code 8208).

It can't be a hyphen because Excel will not let the first character in a cell be a hyphen.

The dash from the first phrase is a non-breaking hyphen ‑ . These can be located in Word by searching: ^~

. . . in Find:

This search in Word will find nonbreaking hyphens but not hyphen-minuses, hyphens, en dashes, em dashes. The purpose of the nonbreaking hyphen is to keep words with hyphens from being separated onto different lines. The second sentence here uses a nonbreaking hyphen:

But they certainly make life difficult for those of us who want to do things like copy out and parse dozens of references to trial exhibit numbers which contain dashes (e.g., PX-1278, DX-217, etc.) and run searches on them.


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