I’m a big-picture gal myself (and no, that’s not a Meghan Trainor reference), but I still notice the little things. It’s an occupational hazard to want to insert a hyphen into nearly every compound adjective I see or to cringe at “lite” and “theatre” used like real American English words—the former playing at trashy for points and the latter affecting an accent to make seeing a movie seem like it’s worth sixteen bucks. It’s all there in the world, but I don’t have to like it. And these are three that keep me baffled. Good news? They’re easy to fix. Two Spaces Went Out with Nixon
The other day I was collaborating on a document with four fellow students in my master’s program. They were confused as to why I was editing along behind them, taking out the second space each of them was inserting at the end of every sentence. I’d been trying to be stealthy, but there were so many and we were all typing so quickly that I couldn’t keep up. They called me out.
“You’re supposed to insert two spaces after a period,” one insisted.
“No,” I said, “you’re not. The computer does it for you. If you’re on a Selectric, then by all means, go for two. If you’re on your MacBook Air, only one. I promise you.”
“Mm, since WarGames came out . . . ?”
My colleagues are not alone. At my husband’s work, they posted a rule that if you were older than Eric (his boss), you were allowed a dispensation for using two spaces following punctuation. Born after 1973? I can’t make any excuses for you. The fact is that computer software and typographical advances have combined to make it effortless to create just the right amount of space following punctuation in a sentence. Just one little tap of your thumb and you’re there. Hopefully, after a while, your eye will become drawn to that yawning chasm between “there” and “hopefully.” It’s bugging you now, isn’t it? You notice the gorgeous balance of the sentences that preceded these. Not a design nerd? But you’re still getting a little uncomfortable? Yes.
While I am of Germanic heritage and can appreciate that language’s unique capitalization patterns, please know that particular rule does not carry through to English. I have a degree in English (cap), because it’s a language; my husband has a degree in math (no cap). He is also an engineer. He is not an Engineer with a Bachelor’s in Math. Because Girl Friday does not have a human resources department, Ingrid and I administer benefits. We do not act as Human Resources Managers, even when dealing with Insurance Companies or third-party Benefits Administrators. Truth be told, nearly every time you think you should capitalize something, don’t, and you should be just fine.
Why Are You SHOUTING AT ME?
On at least three occasions while writing this post, I italicized something for emphasis. On review, I removed two of those instances. You will note that only a single word is emphasized in this post—truly emphasized by italics—and emphasized even more so because of the paucity of italics or all caps in the overall piece. For the most part, people are pretty smart. When we read what you write, we insert nuance, inflection, emotion. WE GET YOUR POINT. AND WHEN YOU REALLY OVEREMPHASIZE every other word, not only does the technique lose its effectiveness, but it also creates visual noise. Putting text in all caps is the equivalent of shouting at the reader (and conversely, rarely necessary to indicate a character is actually shouting). Serial killers do it. Sometimes people like my mother hit Caps Lock by mistake and then they do it. You shouldn’t.
Please help promote good grammar and style by sharing the mistake you love to hate in the comments.