Language has passed me by.

August 12, 2009 Writing Comments (0) 72

Poor typewriter, how callously your contributions are cast aside!

I used to pride myself on being a language nerd, but that changed this week.

First I discovered coordinate adjectives.  My understanding had been that separating adjectives with commas was always incorrect.  Not so!  “Coordinate adjectives,” that is adjectives that modify a noun in the same way, are properly separated by a comma.  The easy way to determine this is to ask oneself whether the same adjectives could be joined by the word “and.”

“The old red car” is correct because “old” modifies “red car.”  Joining the adjectives with the word “and” produces “the old and red car,” which doesn’t work.

“The tall, strong man” is correct because “tall” and “strong” both modify “man.”  “The tall and strong man” works fine, though a comma works better.

Shamed as I was to discover this rule, my week was made worse today when I learned that the internet has apparently assaulted my beloved rules of language.  Specifically, the double-space after a period is no more.  So sayeth the typists and the graphic designers.

Apparently the double-space came in with typewriters.  Because of the single fixed-width font, the typist had to manually insert an “em space” (so named because it is as wide as a letter “m”) by typing two spaces.  Nowadays with all our fancy kerning and variable width fonts, the em-space is automatic and there is no need for that second strike on the spacebar.

Is this something the rest of you already knew?  I feel so left out.

I suppose I will learn to use commas with my adjectives, being that it’s an old rule I never properly learned.  I’ll be damned if I’m going to give up my double spaced sentences, though.  To me it reads more cleanly.  A paragraph with single-spaced sentences just looks wrong to me.  Too dense.

More importantly, though, publishers and editors still expect novel manuscripts to use two spaces between sentences.  Most of them have joined the twenty-first century and no longer demand a fixed-width font (nothing makes a good novel look sad quite like Courier) but they are inflexible on the spacing.  I will go on using two spaces per sentence until the publishing industry demands otherwise, or until my computer runs out of spaces.

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