Journalists are, or certainly should be, keepers of proper use of the English language — even if the rest of the world around them barely qualifies as “English-speaking.”
Weird Al Yankovic is on our side:
(Apparently Weird Al based this on a Robin Thicke sign, “Blurred Lines.” I’m happy I didn’t know that. Most music today is a #soundcrime.)
Another thing the print world gets to deal with is people’s inability, or refusal, to punctuate properly, as reported by Farhad Manjoo:
Can I let you in on a secret? Typing two spaces after a period is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong.
And yet people who use two spaces are everywhere, their ugly error crossing every social boundary of class, education, and taste.* You’d expect, for instance, that anyone savvy enough to read Slate would know the proper rules of typing, but you’d be wrong; every third email I get from readers includes the two-space error. (In editing letters for “Dear Farhad,” my occasional tech-advice column, I’ve removed enough extra spaces to fill my forthcoming volume of melancholy epic poetry, The Emptiness Within.) The public relations profession is similarly ignorant; I’ve received press releases and correspondence from the biggest companies in the world that are riddled with extra spaces. Some of my best friends are irredeemable two-spacers, too, and even my wife has been known to use an unnecessary extra space every now and then (though she points out that she does so only when writing to other two-spacers, just to make them happy). …
The people who study and design the typewritten word decided long ago that we should use one space, not two, between sentences. That convention was not arrived at casually. James Felici, author of the The Complete Manual of Typography, points out that the early history of type is one of inconsistent spacing. Hundreds of years ago, some typesetters would end sentences with a double space, others would use a single space, and a few renegades would use three or four spaces. Inconsistency reigned in all facets of written communication; there were few conventions regarding spelling, punctuation, character design, and ways to add emphasis to type. But as typesetting became more widespread, its practitioners began to adopt best practices. Felici writes that typesetters in Europe began to settle on a single space around the early 20th century. America followed soon after.
Every modern typographer agrees on the one-space rule. It’s one of the canonical rules of the profession, in the same way that waiters know that the salad fork goes to the left of the dinner fork and fashion designers know to put men’s shirt buttons on the right and women’s on the left. Every major style guide—including theModern Language Association Style Manual and the Chicago Manual of Style—prescribes a single space after a period. (The Publications Manual of the American Psychological Association, used widely in the social sciences, allows for two spaces in draft manuscripts but recommends one space in published work.) Most ordinary people would know the one-space rule, too, if it weren’t for a quirk of history. In the middle of the last century, a now-outmoded technology—the manual typewriter—invaded the American workplace. To accommodate that machine’s shortcomings, everyone began to type wrong. And even though we no longer use typewriters, we all still type like we do. (Also see the persistence of the dreaded Caps Lock key.)
The problem with typewriters was that they used monospaced type—that is, every character occupied an equal amount of horizontal space. This bucked a long tradition of proportional typesetting, in which skinny characters (like I or 1) were given less space than fat ones (like W or M). Monospaced type gives you text that looks “loose” and uneven; there’s a lot of white space between characters and words, so it’s more difficult to spot the spaces between sentences immediately. Hence the adoption of the two-space rule—on a typewriter, an extra space after a sentence makes text easier to read. Here’s the thing, though: Monospaced fonts went out in the 1970s. First electric typewriters and then computers began to offer people ways to create text using proportional fonts. Today nearly every font on your PC is proportional. (Courier is the one major exception.) Because we’ve all switched to modern fonts, adding two spaces after a period no longer enhances readability, typographers say. It diminishes it.
Truth be told, though, fixing double spaces is relatively easy for someone who has Microsoft Word, or any other word processing software, or even just a Find and Change function on software. Type two spaces into “Find,” type one space into “Replace,” and your problem should be fixed … except for those who, instead of using tabs or indenting, type several spaces to move type over from the left margin on a page.
Fixing bad grammar and spelling takes much more time. You can do that in print, but it’s difficult to tell someone that the plural of “you” is not “yous,” and if you want to find out something you don’t “ax” someone. It’s particularly annoying to fix the writing or someone who thinks he or she is a good writer, but isn’t. The PlainLanguage.gov website (yes, it exists) has examples of how to write good:
- Avoid Alliteration. Always.
- Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
- Avoid cliches like the plague. (Theyre old hat.)
- Employ the vernacular.
- Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
- Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
- It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
- Contractions arent necessary.
- Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
- One should never generalize.
- Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.
- Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
- Dont be redundant; dont use more words than necessary; its highly superfluous.
- Profanity sucks.
- Be more or less specific.
- Understatement is always best.
- Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
- One word sentences? Eliminate.
- Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
- The passive voice is to be avoided.
- Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
- Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
- Who needs rhetorical questions?
- Parenthetical words however must be enclosed in commas.
- It behooves you to avoid archaic expressions.
- Avoid archaeic spellings too.
- Don’t repeat yourself, or say again what you have said before.
- Don’t use commas, that, are not, necessary.
- Do not use hyperbole; not one in a million can do it effectively.
- Never use a big word when a diminutive alternative would suffice.
- Subject and verb always has to agree.
- Placing a comma between subject and predicate, is not correct.
- Use youre spell chekker to avoid mispeling and to catch typograhpical errers.
- Don’t repeat yourself, or say again what you have said before.
- Use the apostrophe in it’s proper place and omit it when its not needed.
- Don’t never use no double negatives.
- Poofread carefully to see if you any words out.
- Hopefully, you will use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
- Eschew obfuscation.
- No sentence fragments.
- Don’t indulge in sesquipedalian lexicological constructions.
- A writer must not shift your point of view.
- Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!
- Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.
- Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
- If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
- Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
- Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
- Always pick on the correct idiom.
- The adverb always follows the verb.
- Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
- If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be by rereading and editing.
- And always be sure to finish what