Recently, Globe and Mail columnist and author Russell Smith asked his readers whether they still used two spaces after a period, as taught in 70s typing class, and serial commas, as in apples, peaches, and pears.
From the hundreds of passionate responses, he concluded that his readers are retired English teachers, editors in their 50s and typographers in their 40s.
Russell’s readers overwhelmingly insisted on two spaces after a period. In Write like you talk–only better, I advise people to closely follow the rules when they’re writing for people like this. I love to impress them with hyphens in compound adjectives and other triple lutz marks. But this is going too far.
With doubles or singles after a period, no one, beyond the extremists, is going to notice. Besides, adding a space lets my picky clients feel they are correcting something in my writing. Better to have them add a space than mess with a phrase I’ve worked hard to perfect.
It’s like the story an old boss told me about the cartoonists working for the persnickety Walt Disney. Often they would give Mickey an extra finger so Walt would have something to fix and leave the rest alone.
It’s not just Russell’s demographic and Canadians who are stuck in typing class at the same high schools where they taught us that the girls whould continue to secretarial school and Pluto is a planet. I’ve participated in heated discussions with professional communicators around the world on my Linkedin group for the International Association of Communicators.
In the double space debate, I was amazed that so many professionals did not know that the world had changed. I was struck by the ferocity and length of the debate over serial commas.
Although banned by lots of style guides, many cling to the serial comma, even though we all understand what’s meant by apples, peaches and pears. No comma required. Don’t get me going. Read my post about minimalist punctuation
The real issue
What scares me is the chasm between the people who champion the musty old rules and the people who display a total disregard for the linguistic conventions that enable us to communicate. Let’s build a bridge to bring us together.
The advent of computers has meant people are writing more than ever before. With social media, they are even writing for pleasure, which had gone out of style when the telephone was invented.
To you people who care about double spaces and serial commas: I have no problem with you feeling more comfortable writing this way. But let’s calm down and allow writing to evolve. As long as we aren’t flouting rules that help us understand each other, who cares?