John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, and now at

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Other voices

Item: If yesterday’s post about the increase in errors attendant on the reduction of copy desk staffs interested you, then you should certainly pay attention to the additional insights at Words at Work and Headsup.

Item: If you were intrigued yesterday that Peter Bronson of The Cincinnati Enquirer posed a bogus photo of Sen. Al Franken and, after being informed that it was a clumsy fake, left it on his blog while saying that it looked like something Franken would have done, you will like today’s report from the Cincinnati Beacon.*

Mr. Bronson has somewhat belatedly issued an apology, and the offending photo and the entire post it accompanied have been deleted from The Enquirer’s Web site. Either publicity of the matter has awakened Mr. Bronson’s latent scruples or someone at The Enquirer is concerned about the publication’s integrity. Either would be a welcome development.

Item: Achievement is all well and good, but it is failure that sticks in the mind. If you want a headline to be memorable, get it spectacularly wrong (“DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN”). If you want to be remembered as a copy editor, insist on something really stupid. Language Log, where there is glee at the excesses of the copy desk, presents a classic case today. Perhaps the story is even true. But even if not, the reputation will stand.

Item: Mighty Red Pen has discovered a generation gap, two spaces wide. If you put two spaces after a period, you almost certainly developed the habit on a typewriter. If you put one, you swim in the current of the electronic era.

Item: The Education Fund of the American Copy Editors Society has linked with GoodSearch, a search engine powered by Yahoo that donates half its advertising revenue to worthy causes, of which the Education Fund is emphatically one. Since you were going to look for things on the Web or shop anyhow, you might as well do so on GoodSearch, identifying the ACES Education Fund as your preferred charity.

*I was not aware of the Beacon until yesterday and have no knowledge of its authors or connection with them. Their irreverence toward The Enquirer is pronounced.


  1. About the two spaces after the period thing: You would think it was a generational thing, except that I've had to remove those extra spaces from copy from people of all ages. I think the younger ones were taught by typing teachers who were still following the old rule, so those extra spaces may be with us for a long time still. Thank goodness for find and replace.


  2. I was taught two spaces in elementary school through high school. Once college hit, it became one space, which I much prefer. Nicer, cleaner look.

  3. I learned on a typewriter, and it really threw me when people started telling me I was doing it wrong, with the implication I'd never get published if I didn't stop putting in two spaces after the period.

    It's a habit, it's easily changed with find and replace, and if I had to worry about how many spaces I was adding after the period on top of making the right word and grammar choices, I'd never get anything done.

  4. I learned two spaces in grade school in the 90's, and love it even today. This and the Oxford Comma are my major frustrations with AP style.

  5. I went to college when not everyone had their own computer as they do now and typed my papers in the computer "lab." Those keyboards were pretty loud, and the "bang-bang" of people hammering on the space bar between sentences was deafening.

  6. I learned to type on a typewriter and was taught the two-space rule, which I had to unlearn in adulthood when I became a page designer setting type on a computer. What I wonder is whether the pre-computer typesetters set two spaces after periods.