A Sucker for Love Letters, and My "Who Knew?" Moment


I'm a sucker for any kind of letter, especially the kind that arrive in my very own mailbox. And I'm a sucker for love letters, usually love letters that arrived in other people's mailboxes as Husband is not much one to pick up a pen but often comes home with chocolate and ice cream (a fair swap in my book). Anyway, somewhere in the infinity that is the Internet, I came across this online exhibit at the UK's National Army Museum. It's a collection of letters between soldiers and sweethearts and I got lost in love letters last night reading through the exhibit. It's all there from heartwarming to heartbreaking. Take a look if you're a letter lover, too.  (Edited to say: I realized the place I found the link to this exhibit is at the Motherlode blog of the New York Times.  I am not going to link to Motherlode because, I confess, I fear Motherlode and want to remain in total obscurity vis-a-vis Motherlode; but if you want to find it just google "motherlode new york times").

And now for the Who Knew Moment. I've lost sleep over this one. I had the most excellent typing teacher in high school, Mrs. J. (she also happened to be the mom of a friend of mine). She put our nose to the grindstone gently but firmly and we learned that keyboard faster than fast. I still use her proofreading trick: read it backwards. I can still hear her voice in my head: "A space AA space..."  Well, anyway, of course I learned to put two spaces after a period like we all did. And I have just learned that since the dawning of computers I've been doing it wrong. From what I can tell, it has something to do with the fact that typewriters could allow only for the same amount of whitespace around each letter, but computers, with true type fonts, can allow for different amounts of whitespace around different letters (e.g, capitals).  Therefore the double-space after a period is not needed when keyboarding on a computer. (BTW, I'm sure I'm simplifying this and using all the wrong terminology, but you get the idea. Learn more here.).

I'm sure Mrs. J. already knows about this and maybe you do, too, but I did not get the memo on this one! And I have a bazillion poems with a gillion-bazillion ".  "s in them.  Can you say Find and Replace? Husband assures me he can write a script to find the .double-spaces and change them into .single-spaces in one push of the go button. I think I'm just shocked to know that I, lover of all things written, typed, and keyboarded, had absolutely no idea about this.

Happy letter reading and writing, and remember: one space after the period (unless you're still using your trusty old typewriter).


sc-squared said...


during the writing of my doctoral dissertation which, you can imagine, is exhaustive, i learned that the a.p. style, the most preferred method in my discipline, only uses one space after the period. thus, i got used to that and have been doing it for years. i, like you, had to unlearn the two spaces. NOT EASY. (but in a small way, saves time!). and now i have to often explain to colleagues why i use one space. ugh! forge on!

sc-squared said...

oops: meant apa style.


Sandy Longhorn said...

Molly, I just learned this in the last six months. However, as someone who also learned on the typewriter, I'm still addicted to two spaces, even in my poems, and I am having the hardest time adjusting!

Molly said...

sc-squared: you are right about it being a hard habit to break (um, anyone else hearing the Chicago song in their heads right now?)

Sandy, it's comforting to know I'm not the only writerly-type who didn't know until recently. What do you tell your students about it?

Sandy Longhorn said...

Molly, your questions made me laugh a bit (but not at you!). I teach Comp I at an urban community college where 70% of students have to take remedial classes before they get to me. I'm just happy when they avoid sentence fragments and comma splices.

Seriously, many of them have wonderful things to say and I'm meeting them at a stage where we're working on the foundations. The spacing after the period would come later, I hope, as it might be the straw that breaks the camel's back if I told them about it now.

Gerry said...

My neighbor Don Gould used to tell me his war stories. He still held it against army life that he had to destroy his letters from Audrey rather than carry them into combat. She had all of his, though, when he got back home, and they've been reading between the lines now for more than 60 years.

And now a word from the Contrarian . . .

The original explanation for the change from two spaces to one was that deleting the "unnecessary" space would save precious bytes. That was, of course, back in the Middle Ages before humans had learned to send three megabyte photos to each other through the ether.

I put two spaces after the end of each sentence because it pleases me to do so. Microsoft Corporation frequently removes one of those spaces. Fine. Let it be on Microsoft's head. Fortunately, there is no style manual for anything I do or am likely to do for the rest of my life. I like that in a life. (Is there a way to put a wicked little smilie face in here? Consider it there, tucked into the extra space!)

ljchicago said...

I just learned about the space thing, too, from a writer/friend via FB. Slate.com is very serious about it, me less so: http://www.slate.com/id/2281146

I also can't believe that I never knew this!

Molly said...

Sandy, it's a wise teacher who knows the straw that will break the camel's back.

Gerry, you have just coined a new favorite quote: "Let it be on Microsoft's head." I'm glad to know of the original explanation, and envy you your style-manual-free existence. Trust me when I say the wicked little smilie face was assumed from the paragraph break.

ljchicago, I almost hated to post about this -- because I still wish I had never known. :)