Tag Archives: typewriters

What’s Your Type?


In 1964 I took a typing course at my high school, Central High School in Omaha, Nebraska. Go, Eagles.

It was my mom’s idea. I was doing fine with the hunt-and-peck method, I thought, and anyway, I didn’t want to be a secretary when I grew up. I wanted to be a minister or a Rockette or something. But my practical mom said that, regardless of my career choice, being a good typist would come in handy. She was right, as usual, and by the end of the semester I was typing more than a hundred words a minute. My speed was aided by ten years of piano lessons, no doubt.

Of course, I was typing on a manual typewriter. It was important to be accurate because, if you made a mistake, you had to erase it. We didn’t have correction tape or Wite-Out in 1964.

There wasn’t much choice when it came to fonts. Most typewriters had Times Roman or something similar in one of two sizes: pica or elite. With pica you got ten characters per inch; elite gave you twelve.

When I went away to college, most of the girls in my dorm had typewriters, almost all with elite type. Mine had pica, making it the most popular typewriter on my corridor. That’s because writing assignments typically specified the number of pages required, not the number of words. If you were writing a three-page paper using a pica font, you didn’t have to write as many words. A hundred and twenty characters and spaces ate up twelve inches in pica type but only ten inches in elite.

You should know that all characters were the same width, so an M took up the same amount of space as an I. By contrast, most computer fonts today have proportional spacing, so an M is noticeably wider than an I. The font called “Courier,” with fixed spacing, is an exception.

In my typing class, we were taught to place two spaces after the period at the end of a sentence. This made sense when all characters and spaces were the same width but became unnecessary with proportional spacing. For some arcane reason, the American Psychological Association stylebook still stipulates two spaces between sentences. Evidently the APA believes it makes text more readable, but someone has actually performed a study on the matter that refutes the APA’s claim. In any case, if you ever happen to come across a document in which periods are followed by two spaces, the writer learned to type on a manual typewriter and is probably well over 40 years of age.

To my way of thinking, the strongest argument for placing just one space after the period at the end of a sentence is this: If you type two spaces, there’s a chance that one of the spaces will end up at a line break and you’ll have a space floating at the beginning of the next line. That would be ugly. You want a nice, even look on your left margin, don’t you?

The most remarkable thing about all this, as I see it, is that somebody actually did a formal study on the matter. It got me thinking about silly research topics, so I googled “ridiculous research” and came up with a few wowzers:

  • A study that showed the beneficial effect of electric fans in extreme heat and humidity
  • A study that revealed a difference between the sexes in human beings
  • A study showing that conservatives like to use nouns more than liberals
  • A study concluding that Spiderman doesn’t exist
  • A study suggesting that a healthy diet will help you live longer
  • A study demonstrating that being homeless is bad for your health

Your research dollars at work, ladies and gentlemen!

kittensThe saddest study of all came from the Centers for Disease Control, which warns that “cuddling with kittens can kill you.” Apparently cat-scratch fever is actually a thing. I did a little research of my own, because I happen to love kittens and enjoy cuddling with them. It turns out that 0.007 percent of the U.S. population is infected with cat-scratch fever every year and hardly anybody dies from it. Clearly there’s a researcher at the CDC who harbors an antipathy to cats and just wants to make trouble for them.

Fortunately, according to mentalfloss.com, there’s a countervailing study showing that “owning any pet is good for your heart. Cats in particular lower your stress level—possibly since they don’t require as much effort as dogs—and lower the amount of anxiety in your life. Petting a cat has a positive calming effect.”