Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Beware the space invaders!

I've got more than a few grammar, usage and punctuation pet-peeves and crusades. For example: I'm anti-Oxford Comma (I see it as our patriotic duty to, as one of my professors puts it, man the barricades of American English against the British). Yes, OC proponents, I understand that serial commas add clarity. And I really do appreciate the JFK and Stalin meme. I just don't like the final comma. #SorryNotSorry.

There are other things that get my proverbial goat. It drives me bonkers, for example, that some people still maintain that we shouldn't be allowed  to wiggle around gendered pronouns by writing things like "the student took out their notebook." And I have night terrors about people who use quotation marks to add emphasis in writing. Air quotes are bad enough in conversation; do we really need to sully the wonderful world of writing with them?

Anyway, as many writing faux pas as there are to rail against, there is nothing that sets off my reading and writing rage more than double-spaces after a period. Those gaping valleys of white space after every sentence! The page just frittered away on nothingness! The waste! THE HORROR!

So, I was quite pleased when I read Farhad Manjoo's PSA about why you should never, ever use two spaces after a period. Giddy even.

Take heed, friends. Let us resist the hoard of space invaders--lest they find their way into all of our t e x t s .


  1. I agree that it's time to give up the fight against gender-ambiguous singular "they". Everybody already uses it when they need to. (Guess how I feel about dangling prepositions?)

    On the other hand, I disagree heartily with you about the Oxford comma. What is the argument against it? The comma signifies a momentary pause or pitch shift in speech, and such a pause or shift almost always occurs naturally between first, second, and third elements in a series. No writing system is ever an accurate transcription of speech, but the Oxford comma tilts Standard English writing slightly further in that direction.

  2. I'm with you on the singular use of they. In fact, an old post on this site takes on that concern and other myths. Link: http://eiuwrites.blogspot.com/2012/07/mythical-fussbudgetry.html

  3. You'll have to tear the Oxford comma from my cold, dead hands. Clarity is the foundation on which communication of content rests. But while I have a hard time with the one-space rule, that's just because I had too much practice using two since that was the MLA standard for a long time. Obviously, it does not make any sense to impose an old standard on current practice, especially in situations in which font and margins are specified. Still, I would be interested to see a readability study that compares the two standards in less controlled conditions than e-mails and academic essays. Wider margins and spaces between lines definitely make it easier for readers--especially new readers--to isolate and decode words and sentences. That's one reason the US editions of the Harry Potter books can be enjoyed by younger and less fluent readers than the UK editions, which have more words on smaller pages. An extra space after a sentence may have a similar effect. (It also occurs to me that people who are truly appalled by the extra space are just--like us fuddy duddies--merely recoiling from a non-standard practice that "looks wrong.")