Archive for the ‘January, 2011’ Category

Sentences and Spaces

Friday, January 14th, 2011

FD is old enough to have learned to type on an Hermes manual typewriter.  FD did not really learn to type in the high school class where the typewriters were even older.  However, the idea that one should put two spaces after the period of a sentence was probably learned in class.  And, despite changes since then (well described by Farhad Manjoo in his recent Slate essay “Space Invaders:  Why you should never, ever use two spaces after a period”) FD is still using two spaces after a period.

Manjoo says typographers don’t like the two-space idea, and say it is not esthetically pleasing.  It’s an artifact, they/he say/s, based on the way in which old fashioned manual typewriters functioned.  In an age of variable type fonts, no extra space is needed.  But FD finds another reason for using two spaces to indicate the end of a sentence.  If one uses one space to show the end of a word, why not use two spaces to show the end of a sentence, which is a larger unit of thought.

But it seems to FD that the whole question is one of habit or custom.  The ways in which written words are displayed has changed a lot over time.  Many Ancient texts have no space between the words, which must have made reading challenging and perhaps could lead to some interesting misreadings.  Using a “capital letter” at the beginning of a sentence isn’t so old, either — and some languages do not even have different two different forms of each letter, as we do in English.

So, despite Manjoo’s distress, FD will be keeping the FD Blog full of “extra” space.

Reading the Constitution & Mark Twain

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

This morning, FD listened to the House of Representatives reading the US Constitution.  Or so they said.  Actually, the house read a version of the document, leaving out things they didn’t want to read, including both the 18th and 21st amendments (those that adopted and then repealed Prohibition) and the “3/5ths clause” and so on.  The argument made was that portions of the document that had been changed are no longer part of the document.  But that doesn’t seem true.  The wording of various amendments does not say “we strike out” X or Y.  The document is not a palimpsest — the original words haven’t been scraped off.  If you want to read and understand the Constitution, you need to read it all.

Today’s reading wasn’t rehearsed, as far as FD could tell, and readers didn’t seem to have gotten clear instructions.  There wasn’t consistency in whether or not readers read all of the material (some amendment readers included dates of proposals and adoption, some did not) and the division of the readings was a bit weird — some readers didn’t even get to complete a sentence, just some phrases, which made for some strange sound bites.

Similarly, a recent decision to issue a version of Huckleberry Finn that makes changes to the wording of that novel seems also to ignore historical accuracy.  When is that a good idea?