Chicago Manual of Style

Welcome to the latest edition of Above the Law’s Grammer Pole of the Weak, a column where we turn questions of legal writing and English grammar and usage over to our readers for discussion and debate.

Last week, we discovered that our readers’ preference for using pled over pleaded as the past tense of the verb plead hasn’t changed too drastically since 2008: 57% of lawyers still prefer to use pled. So much for members of this profession being sticklers for rules, grammatical or otherwise, eh?

This week, we’ll be turning to a question of spacing. We’ve already dealt with sentence spacing — specifically, whether one space or two should be used between sentences — but today, we’re going to take a look at the em dash. Should you be using a space before and after an em dash?

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My overlords here at ATL thought it would be fun to run a poll about whether there should be one space or two after a period. As if these things are decided by popularity, rather than by rules. This is strange, really, because just about all of you reading this are lawyers or studying to become lawyers. Better than anyone, lawyers know that we rely on laws and rules to decide what’s what, rather than an American Idol–style unscientific poll (where voters are self-selected and can vote multiple times).

As of this writing (late last night), the score was 65.9% saying “two spaces” to 34.1% saying “one space.” Now I’m no math geek (hence law school), but it looks like nearly two-thirds of you think a period takes two spaces after it.

Are you right, and does it really matter?

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Sometimes readers will email us with ideas for posts that range from the insane to the mundane. We’ve learned that what may seem mundane to the average citizen may be totally titillating for an attorney.

Members of this profession really, really like rules, especially rules about proper English grammar and usage. Be it confusion over a homophone, misuse of a hyphen, or incorrect placement of a semicolon, every grammar Nazi has a special place reserved in his heart for the idiot who screws these things up.

And that is why the topic of today’s reader poll is about how many spaces one should use between sentences….

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Did you watch Lost? I was a big fan of the show, which ran on ABC from 2004 to 2010. The series required quite a commitment from its viewers, since it had a large ensemble cast and was a true serial — you really couldn’t miss any episodes. After the third season, the producers made the unusual announcement that the series would definitely conclude at the end of the sixth season. Since so many elements of the show remained a mystery until the very end, it became a guessing game as to whether the writers would be able to tie everything together into a satisfying ending.

Toward the end of the final season, the show revealed a location that we’d never seen before that was crucial to explaining the Island’s secrets. (I’m not giving anything away here if you haven’t seen it.) But the location, a glowing cave, was rendered with cheesy special effects that looked like they’d been borrowed from the original 1960s “Star Trek” series. The bad effects were so jarring that they took the viewer out of the story, causing you to say, “What’s with the cheeseball special effects?”

What the heck does this have to do with improving your legal writing? Find out after the jump.…

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