The Price of Typos

Virginia Heffernan, on the proliferation of typos online and in print:

Bad spellers are a breed apart from good ones. A writer with a mind that doesn’t register how words are spelled tends to see through the words he encounters — straight to the things, characters, ideas, images and emotions they conjure. A good speller, by contrast — the kind who never fails to clock the idiosyncratic orthography of “algorithm” or “Albert Pujols” — tends to see language as a system. Good spellers are often drawn to poetry and wordplay, while bad spellers, for whom language is a conduit and not an end in itself, can excel at representation and reportage.

The Importance of the Oxford Comma

Linda Holmes, writing on why serial commas are vital:

The balancing act between how much rule-making you like in language and how much you like language to evolve naturally isn’t necessarily the point of the serial comma debate (to me, the reasons to keep it have absolutely nothing to do with tradition and everything to do with actual utility), but that’s where almost any discussion of almost any arcane point invariably winds up. Language is alive, you see, and it changes, and its beauty lies in its ability to be shaped by an entire society that calls upon its collective wisdom and experience to create a means of communication that accomplishes what it needs to AND NO THAT DOESN’T MAKE “IRREGARDLESS” OKAY AND STOP USING “LITERALLY” TO MEAN “FIGURATIVELY” I AM BEGGING YOU.

A Beautifully Written Piece About Writing

Film critic James Rocchi has written one of my favorite blog posts of the year:

We write because we have to; we write because we want to. It’s an act of insecurity, in its initial impulse – I matter! Hey! Over here! — but you have to discard that and know that what you’re saying is of interest not because it’s loud or frenetic or an expression of yourself but rather because it contains something ultimately worth saying, and something that would be worth saying even if someone other than you were saying it…Yes, there’s ego involved — suggesting you are without vanity is the most vain thing a person can say –and I think every day of at least 20 people in the field where I covet everything from individual clauses to entire reviews to positions and publishing outlets — but you have to, have to, put that aside and simply do the work when it is there to be done.

On the Abuse of “Nonplussed”

Ben Yagoda explores a problem that I’m endlessly fascinated by: When do grammarians such as myself decide to let go of words’ original meanings?

We all know that words change their meanings all the time, sometimes glacially (the prescriptivists have been fighting on behalf of the original sense of disinterested for centuries), sometimes relatively quickly (that nonplussed thing snuck up on me). But this fact raises a question (it doesn’t beg the question—that means something else): How long should we hold on to a word’s old meaning?

The Disco Stick Problem

A fascinating piece on how sign language interpreters translate Lady Gaga and Bon Jovi into ASL:

Lady Gaga’s “Love Game” is metaphorical, but exactly how metaphorical is it? Is the tone coy? Callous? Flirty? Dirty? . . . She has asked her interpreter friends how they would handle what shall now be referred to as the Disco Stick Problem. “One suggested I do this,” Ison says – mimicking an aggressive hip thrust. But that solution seemed more vulgar than the playful lyrics implied. All of this would be easier if she knew more about her audience – how well they spoke American Sign Language, how well they spoke Gaga – but interpreters at performing arts gigs rarely know their audiences until they arrive at the show.

Why You Should Never Use Two Spaces After a Period

Over at Slate, Farhad Manjoo has written a screed against “two-spacers.” As a one-spacer, I’m inclined to agree with him:

“Who says two spaces is wrong?” they wanted to know. Typographers, that’s who. The people who study and design the typewritten word decided long ago that we should use one space, not two, between sentences. That convention was not arrived at casually. James Felici, author of the The Complete Manual of Typography, points out that the early history of type is one of inconsistent spacing. Hundreds of years ago some typesetters would end sentences with a double space, others would use a single space, and a few renegades would use three or four spaces. Inconsistency reigned in all facets of written communication; there were few conventions regarding spelling, punctuation, character design, and ways to add emphasis to type. But as typesetting became more widespread, its practitioners began to adopt best practices. Felici writes that typesetters in Europe began to settle on a single space around the early 20th century. America followed soon after.