Category Archives: language

Two spaces after a period …

From Farhad Manjoo at Slate.

Do you use one space or two after a period?  Typographers recommend a single space.  I confess that I use two.

The reason for the two-space convention is an interesting example of how technology changes behavior.

The problem with typewriters was that they used monospaced type—that is, every character occupied an equal amount of horizontal space. This bucked a long tradition of proportional typesetting, in which skinny characters (like I or 1) were given less space than fat ones (like W or M). Monospaced type gives you text that looks “loose” and uneven; there’s a lot of white space between characters and words, so it’s more difficult to spot the spaces between sentences immediately. Hence the adoption of the two-space rule—on a typewriter, an extra space after a sentence makes text easier to read.


Military Nomenclature

From the Johnson blog at The Economist.

it once bugged me that in British and American officer ranks, a lieutenant general outranked a major general, while by contrast a major outranks a lieutenant. (Plain “general” outranks both.)  Only later did I learn: major general is shortened from sergeant-major-general. So just as ranks proceed upwards as sergeant-major, lieutenant, captain, so do (sergeant-)major-general, lieutenant-general and (captain-)general.

Never thought about it, but it is interesting.

The Decline and Fall of the French Language?

Usage of French has been declining alarmingly across the world.  Gary Girod discusses the trend and speculates on reason for the decline at

Absurdities # 1

In another example of the cultural chauvinism that seems to be spreading around India (Bengaluru anyone?), Mamata Banerjee’s government has decided to change West Bengal’s official name to Paschimbanga, which literally means ‘West Bengal’ in Bengali.

The absurdity lies in Mamata’s rationale for the change:

Announcing the decision, CM Mamata Banerjee said the new name would enable a move up in the alphabetical order, and state representatives will be able to speak early during national-level seminars or conferences. “This will help us so far as administration is concerned,’’ she said.

This switch would only result in West Bengal moving a couple of places up the pecking order.  If ‘administration’ were really the issue, a much simpler mechanism would be to simply drop the ‘West’ from the state’s name.  Quite obviously, this is just more populism on Mamata’s part.  Cheap talk is much easier than actually governing a state and getting into the nitty gritties of policy.


Indian English: The family tree of a mongrel language

An entertaining piece on Indian English in The Economist.  They reference the Samosapedia, which is a repository of all all things Hinglish  or Bonglish (Bengali + English) or Pinglish (Punjabi + English) or … (you get the picture).I’ve spent a few pleasant hours there over the last few months and and it’s great fun to come across phrases encountered in previous eras in my life.  Some favorites include

  • Jaagte Rahooooooooooo: Literally means “stay awake” and is used by chaukidars in North India.  This particular phrase reminds my of my boarding school education in a little town at the foothills of the Himalayas.
  • Duffer:  “An idiot,” but with an added degree of condescension in the intonation.  Apocryphally from the Anglo-Indian and / or Mac communities.
  • Ladice:  “A group of ladies.”  Pretty much the same as “ladies,” but as always, the difference is in the intonation.  In its implication, the group often becomes a single unit.

I’m chuckling, but I have work to do, and so I shall end this post now.