Pet peeve… and all that

We live in a confusing world. Okay, more accurately, I live in this world, confused. There are so many things I don’t get. I don’t get people who have a professed problem with contractions, such as isn’t (for ‘is not’), don’t (for ‘do not’), shan’t (for ‘shall not’), wouldn’t, can’t, haven’t, aren’t – not to mention the quirky ain’t (originally for ‘am not’). [Yes, Abbie, I am looking at you!] I also don’t get people who confuse (including a certain well-admired Professor who shall remain nameless) between it’s (a contraction of ‘it is’) and its (the possessive form). I seethe with frustration (Yes, I love Lynne Truss!) when people write ‘your’ when they mean “you’re” (contraction of ‘you are’), or say/write the abominable ‘would of’ instead of “would’ve” (contraction of ‘would have’).

But all this is mere bagatelle compared to my latest pet peeve: People who put two (or more) spaces after the period sign (‘.’) while typing in a computer-based word processor!

This is a relic from the age of mechanical typewriters when there was no easy way to justify the paragraphs. Now the word processor does all the hard work; justification of the paragraphs, if necessary, is done at the click of a mouse or a keyboard shortcut, which follows an algorithm to put in appropriate spacing between words depending on their lengths — so that the final format is reasonably pleasing to the eyes. But if one has already put in the hard space character twice or more using the space bar, justification by the word processor leaves unseemly gaps in the overall text.


I often have to bear the brunt of it while writing a collaborative paper (and we shall leave it at that). However, I have also learnt that there is no reasoning or pleading with the perpetrators of this typographical offence. Some of them are quite adamant about putting two spaces, many of them having learnt how to type on a typewriter of ancient times. Curiously, the same folks often destroy computer keyboards by pounding on the keys (don’t quote me on that, though… my N is not large enough, yet).

Fortunately, most modern word processors have an efficient search-and-replace function. Evil gleam in the eyes


  1.  Greengrocers, a dying breed, are best at this: Fresh sprout’s, and so on…..

    I know what you mean about the spaces/full stops but in my opinion there are worse foibles – but perhaps I’d better not go into details!

  2. Oh, Maxine, I’d absolutely love it if you could share some examples from your considerable experience! 🙂 (Misery loves company, you see…)

  3.  I always search-and-replace the double spaces, too 🙂

  4.  Ah! Someone who understands my pain! 🙂

  5.  Maxine – fishmongers have their quirks too. Seen on a roadside sign: "Fresh" Fish. Which, as someone commented, could only have been bettered by this: Fresh "Fish"

    My personal peeves are when people try too hard to be correct (e.g., ‘these are for you and I’, which should be ‘you and me’). And I hate the contrived plural / singular messes people get into with words like ‘majority’ – e.g. ‘A majority of people I know is pedantic’, smugly said because majority indicates singular blah blah… Steven Pinker had a nice technical argument for why this is bogus (in Words and Rules I think), for me it’s enough that it sounds ridiculous.

  6. Tom, bravo! 😀

    I don’t know why some people insist on constructing sentences such as the one you indicated, ‘these are for you and I’… If one takes away the ‘you and’, what remains is ‘these are for I’ – surely people can see how ridiculous that is? We were taught about objects of verbs and prepositions, whereby ‘I’ takes its object form ‘me’ when used with the preposition ‘for’. Does that not hold true any more? 

  7.  Kausik, in my other life as a medical editor, I’ve seen worse. Yes, the first thing I do is search/replace the two spaces after a period.

    One of my pet peeves (again in medical writing) is the bastardization of words that gradually gain acceptance. For example, the pluralization (ha!) of harm: "Study X compared the benefits and harms of treatment Y…"

    Next we’ll be talking about sheeps…

  8. Hmm… ∗ Deep thought mode ∗

    Question, Ken: what would be a good way of writing that sentence – avoiding the pluralization if possible? Especially, if the benefits are multiple, and the harm done can be categorized and/or quantified?

  9. Ah, the double spacing.                    I don’t like it either.

  10. Eva. I’m S  P  E  E  C  H  L  E  S  S. 

  11.  @ Kausik: The easy solution would be to use "risks" instead; for me, that’s a natural opposite to benefits. Another option would be "adverse effects" but that’s two words instead of one. Personally, I don’t see any problem at all with saying "benefits and harm" as the plural is implied.

  12. Danke ze, Ken! Appreciate it. Shall keep it in mind. 

  13. Gabriel Moreno-Hagelsieb

    September 21, 2010 at 1:28 am

    What about using "then" as comparative? I detest this one, yet it is creeping silently, maliciously, and irremediably into scientific articles like a plague. I deferred my starting to publish in open access journals because I first saw this trend in those journals, but now I see it everywhere. I was about to buy a book on ‘R,’ big one, I opened a "random" page, and lo and behold, the author using "then" for "than." I did not buy the book. I guess editors no longer edit.

    I could complain about many more words, but let us leave it at that.

  14. Bravo, Gabriel! Don’t hold back! Let it all out!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: