Language and English

From: r. 'bear' stricklin <>
Date: Fri Jan 4 14:31:23 2002

On Fri, 4 Jan 2002, Stan Barr wrote:

> It's one of the syntax elements of standard written English, as taught
> in Britain anyway for many, many years. One space after a comma, two after
> a period, exclamation or question mark, indent the first character of a
> paragraph, etc...

These are all _typesetting_ rules, and not so much grammar rules.

Furthermore, most of these rules are workarounds for problems introduced
by the limited nature of the typewriter as compared to a full typesetting
machine. Typesetting machines use spaces of varying widths according to
complex rules---some of which are aesthetic in nature. Generally speaking,
spaces after full stops in typeset materials are wider than spaces between

Typewriter rules like "two hyphens approximate one em-dash" (wrong, IMO,
it should be three hyphens) are put in place because common typewriters
have traded off mechanical complexity for widespread adoption and lack the
full character set of typesetting machines. Many early typewriters, in an
attempt to reduce mechanical complexity to the utmost, even lack
differentiated type for the numerals '1' and '0' as either can be suitably
approximated in typewritten documents by the lowercase letter 'l' and the
uppercase letter 'O', respectively.

Even the American English "rule" of placing all punctuation inside
quotation marks is a _typographical convention_ that stems from the early
days of movable type, when the period and comma were the most fragile
pieces of type and were prone to breaking off in the press. Placing a
period between a quotation mark and a space increased the mechanical
stress on the die, and made it more likely to break than if it were
"protected" on one side by other type.


                ...a chicken". Sighing heavily, he...

                ...died suddenly," Ernestine remarked without...

Should this tradition continue in an age where fragility of movable type
is no longer a real concern, and punctuation placed inside quotation marks
has the real possibility of confusing meaning?


                At the SCM prompt, type, "SHOW BOOT."

                At the SCM prompt, type, "SHOW BOOT".

Which one is correct?

Anyway. Don't confuse typographical convention with rules of grammar.
Notice in my first line of text, the underscores surrounding the word,
"typesetting". Is that "incorrect grammar"? Or is it a typesetting
convention for approximating emphasis in a medium which cannot
predictably reproduce emphasized text?


PS: don't forget that underlining, as a typographic convention, came about
because italic text could not predictably be reproduced on a typewriter.
Received on Fri Jan 04 2002 - 14:31:23 GMT

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