Last week I shared a basic typesetting rule that blew a lot of you away.
Yes, many of us who learned to type either on a typewriter or from a teacher who learned on a typewriter had it drilled into our little heads to insert two spaces at the end of each sentence.
Ring a bell?
Well stop that! Your PC/Mac is NOT a typewriter.
Unless you’re specifically using a fixed-width font like Courier, one space is plenty between sentences. Go read last week’s post if you’re just joining us and need more details.
I know I promised you some Twitter tips today, but I had several requests in the comments last week to address two other punctuation issues: ellipses and commas.
So, if you don’t mind, I think we’ll stick with punctuation today and table the Twitter tips for next week. I promise, it will be worth the wait.
Ellipses, aka [dot dot dot] . . .
I love to use ellipses in my writing. This is probably because I write in a very casual style, just like I speak (buuuuurp).
Up until last Tuesday, I always made my ellipses look like this…
…three dots, in a row. No big whoop.
But you know what? I WAS WRONG! After Lib suggested I address this
pet peeve topic, I Googled it to make sure I was doing it correctly and was shocked to learn that I was not. If you go back through my older posts, you will see what an ellipsis loser I used to be. (*Hangs head in shame.*)
According to Grammar Girl (my hero), the correct way to do an ellipse is with a space before and after every period, like this . . .
Note, a proper ellipse has THREE periods (aka ellipsis points)—not two, not four, not seven. THREE. And there should be a space before the first period and a space after the last period too. Just pretend the ellipsis is replacing one word and it will help you remember to surround it with a space on each end. Some desktop publishing programs will insert an ellipse for you with the proper spacing included. If your program does not do this automatically, just type it out manually: space-period-space-period-space-period-space. Just make sure your text doesn’t wrap around and spread your ellipsis out over two lines. That would make doves cry.
(Oh my LAWD, Harold, did she just say “spread your ellipsis”? What kind of filthy blog is this?)
Amended 10/2/2012: I’m sorry—I was wrong. Please don’t insert spaces between your dots in ellipses. I have written a retraction and explanation here.
The bigger issue with ellipses is knowing when and why to use them. There are many schools of thought on this and you’ll get a different answer everywhere you look. Personally, I tend to use them in dialogue quite a bit to indicate a pause or a falter in speech. For example:
“I’m sorry to hear about your child’s problems at school. My cousin had that . . . right before he took all those semi-automatic weapons up into that clock tower.” ~When Facebookers Attack
Another common way to use ellipses is to indicate an omission when you’re quoting someone and don’t want to include their entire sentence/paragraph. As long as you don’t omit something important or change the meaning of their quotation, this is fine.
Okay. Are we cool on ellipses then? Great. Moving on . . .
Commas can be tricky. Several people commented last week that they were “comma challenged.” As an editor, I find myself inserting commas more often than I delete them. This is mostly because not everyone sees the necessity of the serial comma (often called the Oxford comma or the Harvard comma) which is the final comma used in a list of three or more items.
The word on the street is that British people and newspaper columnists don’t use serial commas. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the serial (Oxford) comma. But not everyone feels the same way. It’s really a style choice, but I always err on the side of communicating as clearly as possible.
Here’s one of my favorite examples (source unknown):
Perhaps my favorite is this famous little snippet from The Times about a documentary by Peter Ustinov:
Betcha didn’t know that about Nelson Mandela, that cheek!
Frankly, even if the writer had included the serial comma after the phrase “an 800-year-old demigod,” there could still be some ambiguity about Nelson Mandela. Is he really that old? Is he a demigod? Wait, who is the dildo collector? What the hell is happening here?
The lesson being that a properly placed comma can only take your writing so far. Oh and also, if you are hiring strippers who look like JFK and Stalin in the above example, you’ve got bigger problems than your grammar. I’m just saying.
Well that’s all the time we have for today, my friends. I hope these grammar tips will help you tighten up your writing and make your blog posts look their best.
Next week we’ll cover some Twitter tips every blogger needs to know.
And tomorrow I’m announcing the sponsors and prizes for the Craft Whores contest (which officially begins this Thursday). You won’t want to miss it!
See you tomorrow!