“If you type two spaces after a period, you’re doing it wrong.”

 Words  Comments Off on “If you type two spaces after a period, you’re doing it wrong.”
Dec 032011

I’m a beginner in the work of writing for strangers.  I’ve spent years writing reports for people I knew fairly well.  I knew their strengths and weaknesses and wrote accordingly.  But writing for a wider audience is more difficult, so I am always on the look out for tips and good advice.

Recently I came across an article on Slate, a site I visit to read the Doonesbury comic strip.  It is a 1,400 word diatribe against people who put two spaces after a sentence, rather than one.  Read it here if you’re interested:


It includes this quote from a typographer: “in terms of what you can do wrong, this one deserves life imprisonment.”

Wow!  And I thought it was just a matter of personal taste.

The article isn’t just abusive, it does explain how the ‘two spaces’ custom arose, and what purpose it served.  In some places it is a reasoned article, in others simply angry.

I mention it because it struck me as an example someone lacking a sense of proportion.  Are there really people who want to see other people jailed for life, just because they have failed to keep abreast of modern typographical conventions?

I doubt it.  They are just getting angry about something which is, for them, a frequent source of irritation.  Then, being angry, they use disproportionate language to address the world about a problem very few people care about.

Aha!  That’s the real problem.  They know in their hearts that the vast majority of people don’t think they are important.

Poor things.

It’s a mistake I never make.  Honestly, I never ever do that.

But I do use ‘two spaces’, and now I have to decide whether, after forty-odd years of typing, I need to uproot an ingrained habit.

Or should I just rely on software to correct my sloppiness automatically?

 Posted by at 13:27


 Chondritics, Words  Comments Off on Chondritics?
Apr 072011

“Chondritics” is a word from astrophysics.  Meteorites – rocks which fall to earth from outer space – come in several types.  One type are called “chondrites”.  The chondritic meteorites are made of grainy stone.  Other meteorites are metallic (made mostly of iron and nickel) or achondritic (stony, but with a smooth texture, not grainy).

When meteorites fall to earth most are found to be chondrites (more than 80%).  Astronomers are interested in them because they are clumps of material left over from the early history of the Sun.  The planets formed from a big cloud of gas and grains.  Some grains were icy snowflakes, some were tiny chunks of rock, others were slivers of metal.  Most of this cloud condensed, just over 4,500 million years ago, into the planets we see today.  The bits that didn’t get swept up into planets became asteroids, comets and meteorites.

So when you look at a chondritic meteorite you’re looking at something that’s not as old as the hills, it’s even older!  No wonder astronomers get excited about them.

The word has two interesting links: hypochondria and chondritis.  Chondritis is a medical condition in which some of the cartilage in your body is inflamed.  It is a painful condition.  Hypochondria is an illness in which people have great anxiety about being ill.

The connection comes from the Greek word chondros meaning a grain (as in grains of sugar).   But the Greeks also used chondros to mean gristle, or cartilage.  If your gristle is hurting you may have chondritis.

In my body, and yours, there is a lot of gristle at the lower end of your breast-bone,  It links my ribs together in a semi-rigid way, tough enough to protect my lungs, but flexible enough to let me breathe.  So the part of the body just under your ribs is called the “hypochondria”, the “bit under the gristle”.  When you feel very anxious it can sometimes feel as though there is a big, swollen space under your ribs.  Worrying too much about possible diseases can give you a pain under your gristle: you become a hypochondriac.

 Posted by at 22:39


 Words  Comments Off on Aporian?
Apr 072011

“Aporia” is the state of being blocked, of having no way through a difficulty.  It comes from a root meaning “not porous” – if a material is porous that means water can find a way through it.  “Aporian” is just the adjective meaning “having a blocked character”.

Years ago I worked as a management consultant, trading as “Aporia Consultants”.  I had a feeling that any question which left managers feeling blocked would be interesting and exploring why it made them feel blocked might help them to make progress.

Then, when I was doing work on the IT systems in a hospital, a doctor told me that “aporia” was an old-fashioned term for “constipation”.  You can see how that would work – feeling bunged up, unable to set things in motion.  I suppose it could also mean dense or thick, not the sort of image a management consultant would want.

I use it on this website because I still think that the feeling of having reached an impasse, though frustrating at the time, is often the start of an adventure.

 Posted by at 21:43