Archives for the month of: January, 2012
School Room by Rob Shenk
School Room, a photo by Rob Shenk on Flickr.

I remember the moment quite clearly. Miss Long handed me back an assignment in my 9th grade English class and there was an ugly grade at the top of the page. The only explanation I could find were the ubiquitous red circles around blank spaces across the page. Blank spaces? I was being marked down because I left spaces blank? I cornered Miss Long after class, what was the meaning of this, I demanded. (Well, not in those words, although I wish it had been in those words, it’s very proper and combative all at the same time. Perfect dialogue, albeit a little cliche.) She sighed and patiently explained, “You have to leave two spaces after a period when you are writing, it’s the way things are done.”

I took it for granted that Miss Long was right and she knew what she was doing. She was probably only 10 years my senior but, I reasoned, she was my teacher, she must know more than me. I think it’s one of the final stages of “growing up” or “becoming an adult” when you realize that just because someone is a teacher it doesn’t mean that they know everything about the subject they are teaching. I learned this lesson years ago, but for some inexplicable reason I kept holding onto this double space idea because Miss Long told me that’s the way things were done.

I first noticed a problem when I started this blog, if I double spaced after punctuation, the formatting came out all wrong. I was suspicious. I pushed that suspicion aside, Miss Long’s face and the sad red grade at the top of my paper a menacing reminder. As time went on, I became more suspicious, so I did some research. First I stopped to check in and see what Grammar Girl (she’s been my go-to grammar authority for years) had to say here. And then I checked a few other places just to be sure, including the authority on writing The MLA, here, and my beloved Chicago Manual of Style for their humorous answer here.

The consensus agrees, and it was as I suspected, Miss Long was wrong and I was RIGHT. Me! Me! Me!

I was marked down because she wasn’t keeping up with the revolution of formatting brought on by personal computers. Two spaces were required in the days of using typewriters to improve readability because each letter took up the same amount of space, but when using a computer, each letter takes up the amont of space allotted to that particular letter. To quote Grammar Girl:

[W]hen you’re typing on a computer, most fonts are proportional fonts, which means that characters are different widths. An “i” is more narrow than an “m,” for example, and putting extra space between sentences doesn’t do anything to improve readability.

I find my situation to be completely ridiculous because I never wrote on a typewriter and it was only a year later that I got my first email address.

The important thing is that, I was right! However, this revelation leaves me less than satisfied. I was doing poorly in math that year, English was my one easy subject, and I was marked down for an archaic rule by a teacher who apparently did not know as much as I did, with no opportunity to say “I told you so!” This blog post will have to be my vindication. Miss Long, this one’s for you.

I have been leaving two spaces after punctuation for almost two decades now. Although I thought it would be hard to change my habits, it’s quite easy. Within 24 hours I was a one space girl and it feels so good.

My husband, who is fortunately a gifted editor and grammarian, is patiently walking through my manuscript with me. During this process I have discovered that I have forgotten nearly everything about how to construct a good sentence. I am currently doing a study of grammar. Sadly one my favorite books, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation addresses British English problems, so for my purposes, it’s not useful. But, I’ve found some other good ones. The classic, The Elements of Style and one I’m very excited about, The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager and the Doomed. If you have any others to recommend, please let me know.

It has also come to my attention that I am an abuser of participles. I like them to dangle. It’s cruel, I know, but I cannot help myself. Have no fear, my brilliant editor is pulling them back from the edge. My manuscript is now less lyrical than I envisioned in my mind but, my husband likes to point out that, at least it makes sense. Until my grammar study is done, please excuse my poorly constructed sentences. I had a mediocre English class in 9th grade and I’m still trying to recover from it.

I know at the beginning of the year it’s popular to set new goals about blogging more often, but I’m just not going to do it.

I’m still here, but I’m busy editing my manuscript and fighting off all impulses to throw it out entirely and give up. Editing is hard work and quite painful actually. I really had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I’ll be back soon.