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I can't understand the grammar and meaning of this phrase:

a single worthy cause – spread too thinly

What does it mean generally and what's the use of "-" in it.

The complete paragraph is:

Unlike their Extraverted cousins though, Mediators will focus their attention on just a few people, a single worthy cause – spread too thinly, they’ll run out of energy, and even become dejected and overwhelmed by all the bad in the world that they can’t fix. This is a sad sight for Mediators’ friends, who will come to depend on their rosy outlook.


UPDATE: I found another example of using dash:

In the 1939-45 strand of the story, Turing has grown up physically – though not, the film implies, emotionally.

I think it says: Turing hasn't grown up emotionally and the film implies this as well.

But still using dash doesn't make any sense to me. For example, I expected another dash following the first one.

  • In your second example about Turing, the dash seems to be used like a comma but to emphasize the separation and make it a longer pause. – Mixolydian Mar 26 at 15:26
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Mediators will focus their attention on just a few people, a single worthy cause – spread too thinly, they’ll run out of energy, and even become dejected

Mediators will focus their attention on just a few people, [or] a single worthy cause.

[However, if the mediators are] spread too thinly, they'll run out of energy.

"to spread oneself too thinly" means to try to do too many things at the same time instead of concentrating on one or two things.

  • I think "spread too thinly" refers to "just a few people" not the mediators – K47 Mar 26 at 14:21
  • No, that wouldn’t make sense in this context. The mediators are “spread too thinly” because this whole paragraph is about them. I’m assuming “mediator” is some kind of introverted personality type. Mediators like to help others but would be overwhelmed by taking on too much and having a lot of social obligations. I agree with @fred2 that the em dash should be replaced by a period as “spread too thinly” is the start of a new point. – Mixolydian Mar 26 at 15:21
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I think this is a case of a run-on sentence. The en dash should be replaced by a full stop/period.

I don't blame you for not understanding it as written. It took me about three goes to understand what was going on.

  • What is three goes?? – K47 Mar 26 at 14:16
  • Three attempts. – fred2 Mar 26 at 14:17
  • Is this an en dash or an em dash? Maybe it’s not long enough to be an em dash but it seems to be used as one uses an em dash. (I am referencing chicagomanualofstyle.org/qanda/data/faq/topics/… ) – Mixolydian Mar 26 at 15:25
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    Have to admit I didn't get my tape measure out. ;-) I typed 'em' originally and changed it to 'en' because it had a space either side. But yes, if I was typesetting I'd use and em dash and no spaces. – fred2 Mar 26 at 16:09

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