As an editor at the Huffington Post, I’ve had the chance to work on submissions from guidebook authors, magazine journalists, foreign correspondents and all manner of wannabe Pico Iyers. Earlier in my career, as the editor of Jaunted, I was lucky to work with some of the most creative travel bloggers on the web. I feel privileged to read the work that crosses my desk every day, even when an author’s excitement over a story results in the odd mistake here or there. My job, after all, is to prevent those hiccups from reaching the public.
Lost in spaces
But one typo continues to infuriate me on an almost daily basis: writers putting spaces not once but twice or even thrice after periods, sometimes even mixing those up within the same article. An editor’s plea: if you’re going to get it wrong, get it wrong consistently. Better yet, just use one space after a period, every time.
It’s the right thing to do.
Yes, years ago, we were taught by ink-stained wretches to put two spaces after periods when drafting our manuscripts on a typewriter. This was not simply a stylistic choice. Typewritten pages demanded a practical consideration: many machines, including the nearly ubiquitous IBM Selectric, used exclusively monospaced typefaces in which every alphanumeric character occupied the same amount of physical space on the page. But the room allotted to the space was narrower than that for the alphanumerics and so, for the sake of legibility, writers double-tapped the space bar to put adequate breathing room between the end of one sentence and the beginning of the next.
Sometime in the past 30 years—you may have noticed this—writers have switched to using computers for much of their scribbling. Word-processing programs have many powerful features, but one of the most subtly life-changing has been the reintroduction of variable spaced fonts—typefaces that automatically kern characters, conveniently putting a nice gap between the period at the end of this sentence. And the capital A at the start of this fragment.
But that’s not all
There are other errors that frequently raise my blood pressure. Writers have a tendency to capitalize the names of restaurant dishes even when this is not called for, highlighting a great order of “Steak Frites,” or “Linguine alle Vongole” or “Rack of Lamb with House Mint Jelly.” Em dashes—like these—are awkwardly used or replaced by hyphens, which aren’t the same thing. “Quotation marks” are replaced by single ‘apostrophes,’ as if stylistic usage of the former necessitated the use of the latter instead.
These may be writerly quirks, the sort of thing a copy editor put into a house style manual and passed along years ago, or bad habits that were never corrected because word processors found and replaced, found and replaced. The double space, on the other hand, is an anachronism haunting us from an era when we cleaned carburetors, replaced vacuum tubes, defrosted the freezer and actually hammered out our pieces with clacking keys. Now, if you’re sending me a travel piece for the Huffington Post, one space per period is all I need. I’ve yet to publish one written with a typewriter.—PAUL BRADY