Ghosts of Typing Conventions Past

Chapter 1: Common Misconceptions

It was Christmas Eve and Mr Scrivener Drudge, a wicked old miser who bore no similarity to anyone that would raise copyright issues, sat gloomily at the computer in his office. His nephew had bought it for him last Christmas after, in a fit of rage, Drudge threw his typewriter at a street urchin for singing the popular hits of Slade.

Well what do you know? He’s public domain. We could have avoided this whole forced parody.

Drudge hated Christmas. He hated street urchins, he hated his nephew, but most of all he hated his computer. It encouraged him to engage with the outside world. Admittedly, he did join social media so he could tell strangers how ugly their babies were, but then he had to refuse a friendship request from Mrs Twinkleton from Greg’s Pie Shop and ignore several invitations to play online charades.

The computer also forced Drudge to learn new things. He hated this most of all. He’d done all his learning years ago, so he already knew what was right. And he loved knowing that he knew more about these things than other people. In particular, he enjoyed knowing more than the people who worked for him.

‘Mr Ostentatiously-Poor,’ he said to his clerk, ‘Take a letter. And be sure to leave two spaces after each full stop!’

‘But…’ began Mr Ostentatiously-Poor.

‘No arguments!’ said Drudge, throwing a suckling pig at his clerk’s head. Drudge didn’t eat suckling pig himself. Nobody did. It’s a piglet, a literal baby piglet, just sitting there on your table. Who would eat that? Not him. He just liked to keep a couple on hand to throw at people during the festive season.

Eventually, the time came for Mr Ostentatiously-Poor to close up the office for Christmas. Drudge trudged home alone. He got into his pyjamas, dressing gown, slippers (and hat for some reason), then settled down to watch Michael McIntyre’s Big Show. Suddenly, though, he heard a wailing noise and the clanking of chains. Before him rose the ghostly figure of his deceased ex-partner, Badman Miserly, who might have been a nicer person if he didn’t have such a terrible name.

‘Drudge!’ the spirit cried. ‘In life I clung to outdated typing conventions. Now, in death, I am compelled to wander in limbo followed by the angry ghosts of proofreaders! Tonight, you will be visited by three spirits’.

And with that the ghost departed, followed by a train of proofreaders who had died of frustration and were really just taking it out on him.

Chapter 2: Monospace Typesetting

No sooner had the ghost gone than another took its place. This ghost was dressed in strange vestments from many years past: tight jeans and a t-shirt proclaiming that someone named ‘Frankie’ wanted the reader to ‘relax’. ‘I am the Ethereal Being of Typing Conventions Past,’ it said, carefully.

The spirit took Drudge by the hand and led him back to 1985, where a younger Drudge sat in a room typing on an IBM Selectric typewriter. ‘I remember this place!’ cried Drudge. ‘This is where I learned to type!’

‘That’s right,’ said the ghost. ‘And look: there you are, quite correctly adding two spaces after a full stop. That’s because typewriters used monospace typesetting. You see? All the letters on the typewriter take up the same amount of space. The smallest of letters is allocated enough space to fit a letter m or w. That makes it quite gappy, so two spaces are needed to clearly mark the ends of sentences’.

Chapter 3: Proportionally Spaced Fonts

That moment, the Ethereal Being of Typing Conventions Past disappeared, only to be replaced by another ghost. This spirit was wearing the knitted-Die-Hard-jumper-and-beard combo common among a certain type of ‘ironic’ man during the modern Christmas season. ‘I am the Ethereal Being of Current Typing Conventions,’ he said, uncomfortably.

The ghost hoverboarded Drudge to, of all places, the unexpectedly nice house of Mr Ostentatiously-Poor. There sat the clerk with Mrs Ostentatiously-Poor and all the little Ostentatiously-Poors, including Small Jim, who was perfectly healthy but was failing English at school.

‘Alas!’ cried the clerk in despair. ‘Small Jim has been reading my work documents and got it into his head that it’s still OK to put two spaces after a full stop! If he carries on this way he’ll be expelled!’

‘Not at Christmas!’ wept his wife.

‘You see?’ said the ghost. ‘Double spaces after full stops have been considered incorrect for some time. Computers use proportionally spaced fonts that allow different amounts of space for different letters. There’s simply no excuse for double spaces after end punctuation any more.’

The spirit dissolved into nothing, almost as though he were in danger of exceeding the optimal length of a blog post about double spacing. But then, despite the word count, another ghost appeared.

Chapter 4: The Bleak Future

This new apparition was shrouded from head to toe in emojis. ‘I am the Ethereal Being of Typing Conventions Yet to Come,’ it said, wearily, before vomiting a bright flood of yellow ‘meh’ faces onto a computer screen and sobbing uncontrollably. Drudge could get no more sense out of the spirit, and eventually it faded, leaving Drudge alone in his living room.

Cold winter sun streamed through the window. It was Christmas Day! Drudge ran to his office, took to his computer and typed an invitation to his nephew and Mr Ostentatiously-Poor to join him for Christmas dinner. And he typed it using only one space after end punctuation, for he was truly a changed man.

Everybody loves a pedant!

And, as Small Jim observed, if proofreaders must remain caught between the outdated conventions of the past and the incomprehensible conventions of the future, god help us. Everyone.