Bill Bryson, Double-spacing, and Rogue ApostrophesLeave a comment
June 19, 2014 by libroshombre
Bill Bryson is among the best at putting words together informatively, expressively, and amusingly. His books, such as “Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” or “A Short History of Nearly Everything,” are all nonfiction and make great reading for active minds. An astute observer of past and current English language usage, Bryson’s also authored “Mother Tongue” and “Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words.” So I listen up when he says, “Language is more fashion that science, and matters of usage, spelling, and pronunciation tend to wander around like hemlines.”
I don’t actually lose sleep over concerns about the halving of the traditional two-space interval that separates sentences, or potentially qualifying for the Idler Academy’s Bad Grammar Award, but such trifles can certainly annoy. Three decades ago, I inherited a weekly newspaper column in Seguin, Texas when I accepted the library director position. The editor said he didn’t care how or what I wrote so long as I followed a few journalistic conventions: end the copy with “-30-,” double-space between lines, and put two spaces between sentences to make it easier to read. My use of -30- declined over time, but I persist in doubling the spaces between lines and sentences in the belief that it’s easier on the reader.
“Few subjects arouse more passion among writers and designers,” Dave Bricker writes in his popular blog TheWorldsGreatestBook.com, “than the debate over how many spaces should follow a period.” Most style manuals prefer using one space, but that’s a fairly recent convention. Bricker writes that the single-space movement began in the 1960s. The two-space convention was followed for centuries, but “in 1961 things began to change,” and he” found no examples of single-spaces being used after periods prior to 1960.”
Call me madly impetuous, but I still put two spaces between sentences, as well as endorse using apostrophes and Oxford commas. Though grammatical philistines are striving for their elimination, some of us believe in the inherent usefulness of apostrophes and Oxford commas, which OxfordDictionaries.com says are “used after the penultimate item in a list of three or more items, before ‘and’ or ‘or,’” as in “apostrophes, commas, and persnicketiness.”
My free use of apostrophes is often noticed by the proofreader I’ve lived with for forty years. It’s something I should work on lest I win a Bad Grammar prize from the Idler Academy, a self-described “old school for a new world” based in London that, besides sponsoring grammar awards, offers “online and real world courses in the classical liberal arts and practical skills.” Some of its courses are straightforward while others are more whimsical This October, for example, they offer “Autumn Foraging and Philosophy Weekend. It’s similar to our own popular Osher Lifelong Learning classes offered through UAF, with the addition of online classes.
The Idler’s Bad Grammar Award pinpoints “the incorrect use of English by people and institutions that should know better,” though Britain’s their focus. The Tesco grocery chain was cited this year for using “Same Luxury. Less Worries,” instead of “Fewer Worries,” in advertising their “loo-roll packaging,” as TheGuardian.com article puts it, “and for describing its orange juice as “most tastiest.” The Great British Primary Schools were singled out for their playground sign: “We all wash are hands after playing in the sandpits,” and the Army was caught with a double-whammy in advertising “For any inquires [sic] please contact you’re nearest Army Careers Office.”
Several organizations besides the Army were accosted with utilizing “rogue apostrophes,” much in the manner of a certain Fairbanks columnist. Nonetheless, I still sanctimoniously fret over the society’s emerging tendency towards excessive online punctuation. The recent proliferation of question and exclamation marks are seen as being needed to provide emphasis and context. It’s reaching the point that ending electronic sentences with mere periods is considered being sarcastic. Compare the perky “See you later!” with the ambiguous “See you later.” The escalation in exclamation marks by advertisers is particularly egregious, except for “Prime Rib Saturday!!!!” in which the exclamations look like the product.
When it comes to lifelong learning, your public library offers a wonderful product. Learn whatever you desire, however you want to learn it, and for free. Sometimes, as Bryson noted, “Cheapness is a great virtue.”