Tuesday, August 18, 2015

How Times Have Changed!

by Marsha Ward

Back in high school, I learned to type using non-electric, or "manual" typewriters. Although our typewriters were a bit more modern than the one shown at the left, electric typewriters had not yet became the norm. We had three or four electric machines in the classroom, so we had to cycle through them. It might even have been a perk for being a good student.

The main difference between typing on a manual and an electric machine is the amount of force necessary to depress the keys. People raised in the age of computers have no idea how much effort was expended in getting a letter written. Today's keyboards are flat, but in those days, each row stood significantly higher than the one below it.

We still used F and J as "home keys," and learned how to use the side of our thumb to tap twice on the space bar after each period before we began a new sentence.

Wait!

No one taps twice on the space bar anymore. At least, they should not if they're writing manuscripts for publication.

We used to tap twice, because the keys that flew up and hit the ribbon when we struck a letter key--thus imparting an impression of a letter to the paper--were designed to occupy the same amount of space, even though "I" is much skinnier than "G." It was hard to see where a sentence ended, so it was important to put two spaces after a period to help folks out. Let me put it in another way:

We used to tap twice, because the keys that flew up and hit the ribbon when we struck a letter key--thus imparting an impression of a letter to the paper--were designed to occupy the same amount of space, even though "I" is much skinnier than "G."  It was hard to see where a sentence ended, so it was important to put two spaces after a period to help folks out.  Got it?*

When the above "monotype" went the way of the dinosaurs with the coming of word processors, and then computers, each letter only took a proportional amount of space, and it was pretty clear where a sentence ended. See what I mean?

Besides, typographers employed by publishers to prepare a book for print haven't put two spaces between sentences in a long time. Go check that out by pulling out the book from your bookshelf that has the oldest copyright date and casting an eye over the body text. See?

Here's the thing. If you habitually type two blank spaces between each sentence, and you sell a manuscript to a publisher, what do you suppose is going to happen to those extra spaces?

Yeah. Someone has to take them out. Yep, a global search can help, but the publisher has to pay someone to do the global search.

I have no proof that an other-wise sellable manuscript with two spaces between each sentence will be rejected because of the extra spaces, but why brand yourself as a low-information person, and someone who brings extra cost to the publisher, when it's not necessary?

It will take effort to rid yourself of the habit of striking twice after a period, but you can do it, just as you learned not to use tabs to indent.

Uh, you didn't get that memo, either? Oh dear.
~~~

*Manual typewriters didn't have the capacity to show italics, so in a manuscript, we underlined anything that should be typeset in italics when printed.

Did you learn to type on a manual or electric typewriter? One with a ball instead of striking keys? A word processor? A computer? Share your memories.

2 comments:

  1. I learned to type on a manual typewriter, but by the time I got to high school, they had started using electric typewriters. My senior year, our high school put a computer terminal in the math building. It connected to ASU's computer system through the phone system...you know...the dial up kind. Wow. Things sure have changed.

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  2. Thank goodness my school at the time had electrical. I tried for fun doing a manual the teacher had and my fingers were too small to reach up and push down the keys. But your post brought back some fun memories.

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