Britain gets a new cabinet: an update

Britain has a new prime minister, who even though he’s never been prime minister of anyplace before has the look of a second-hand car about him–the kind whose odometer broke when someone tried to set it back. So far, he’s told us that everything’s going to be wonderful with him in office. We’ll leave the E.U. by Halloween, with or (possibly preferably) without a deal, and this will make the country prosperous and united.

We’ll all have 100,000 fewer miles on our individual and national odometers.

In anticipation, the pound dropped against both the dollar and the euro.

More concretely, he’s appointed a new cabinet. So let’s check in on what a few of them have done in their limited time in government.

Jacob Rees-Mogg is the new leader of the House of Commons and he’s banned metric measurements in his office. And if something comes into the office speaking metric and has to go back out in the same form? Presumably it will have to be translated into imperial units to be read and then translated back out of them before it rejoins the world. 

He’s also banned a series of words and phrases, including (but, oh, so not limited to) hopefully, very, due to, ongoing, equal, yourself, lot, got, pleased to learn, and unacceptable.

Equal? Yeah, it’s on the list. It will, hopefully, prevent staff members from saying, “Go fuck yourself,” when they’re told that asking for equal pay is unacceptable.

A couple of the entries (lot, got, and I am pleased to learn) have been reported but are unconfirmed. I mention that because this stuff is important and I want to be sure we get it right. I’m an immigrant here, so to a certain kind of person the way I use the language is always going to be suspect. Which makes me very much want to say, “Go fuck yourself.” Due to having an ongoing bad attitude.

Rees-Mogg’s staff has also been instructed to use a double space after a period–which in British is called a full stop, and I’m sure he’d insist on it being called that–and not to use a comma after an and

It is possible to use a comma after an and but it’s not easy. I’m not going to bother working up an example when I’ve got a lot of simpler ways to break the rules.

Staff members should also avoid using is too often. How often is too often? You’re on your own there. Do be careful, though, please. I care about you, and the world’s a dangerous place.

I is also on the list of banned words. Maybe, like the queen, he prefers one. One is–. Nope, can’t use is. One might be pleased to find a less awkward way to avoid its use.

Since he became an MP, R-M’s speeches have used words from the banned list 1,189 times. It may have gone up since that report, so let’s take that as a minimum, especially since uses of the word  I, mysteriously, weren’t included. And yes (ha! got the comma in after and), if you’re going to be such a public nit-picker, someone will sit down and count. Gleefully.

R-M also demands that any man who doesn’t have a title get the suffix Esq. added to his name. Women, presumably, are too unimportant to worry about. Or maybe the language doesn’t have an equivalent. I wouldn’t know.

Admittedly, the guidelines were established at his old office as a plain old MP and have been transferred wholesale to his new, elevated position as Micro-Manager-in-Chief, so presumably this hasn’t occupied all his time. That is, however, speculation.

He’s commonly known as the Honourable member for the 18th Century.

After that, anyone else is going to be a disappointment, but let’s go on.

Grant Shapps, the new transport secretary, has announced a two-page limit for briefings and says he will “pay attention to the font size and margins.”

Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, has brought his favorite pink cup to his new office. As far as I know, it’s not a sippy cup. 

Oops. Did I just start a rumor?

Priti Patel, the new home secretary, has a £1,000-an-hour contract with a company that supplies products and services to the same government she works for. She also earns £45,000 a year for working 20 hours a month for an accounting software firm. If she cares about the spacing after a period, limits her intake of government documents to picture books, or drinks from a sippy cup, it’s not on record but it might be preferable. 

Now let’s go back to that business about a double space after a period. If WikiWhatsia is correct (and I’m not going any deeper into this than a WikiWhatsia article, earthshaking though the topic may be), a double space after a period is called English spacing. A single space is called French spacing. There are other differences between the two, but let’s stop there. We’re not setting type, just reporting on it. 

So far, it sounds clear, but the phrases are often used in exactly the opposite way, and WikiWhatsia gives a good solid list of examples without managing to help me understand why or how that happened.

Starting in the mid-nineteenth century, the trend in typesetting has been toward a single space after a period. It’s quicker and it’s cheaper, since in a book that small change can save a fair bit of paper. And many people think it looks better.

The U.S. seems to have made the shift to single spacing before the U.K., although even there high-end publishing stuck with the double space for a while. With the introduction of computers, designers and typographers have increasingly leaned toward the single space. In my experience, it dominates the publishing world.

So is R-M dedicated to the double space because he thinks it’s high end? Or because he thinks it’s English as opposed to French (and the English, if you’ll forgive a generalization, have a thing about the French)? Or because it was done that way in the eighteenth century and that’s his century? I can only ask, not answer. If he knew that in the early 1960s, when all girls with fingers were taught to type, no excuses accepted, I was taught that it was necessary, right, and moral to double space after a period. I was (partly deliberately, partly by nature) a monumentally bad typist, but for years I double-spaced after periods.

If that doesn’t take the shine off the double space, I don’t know what will.

99 thoughts on “Britain gets a new cabinet: an update

  1. When I was seven or so I can remember my aunt trying to teach me to type on one of those cast iron Underwood machines…you needed muscles of iron to operate the thing. That was no problem…I had been riding shetland ponies so the muscles were well developed….the problem was when my father found out and announced that no daughter of his was going to become a typist. Still can’t type, but the laptop keyboard gets quite a pounding.

    Liked by 2 people

      • Too true! Doyou remember those duolicating machines which spewed red gung betwen the top and bottom sheets? And repairing mistakes on them? Best not to admit to familiarity with a keyboard when the agent was looking for someone to reproduce election leaflets. Not only the workers’ flag but the workers’ fingers would be deepest red.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Thanks for that. It gave me a good giggle. The duplicating machines I remember didn’t spew red, though. I remember mimeograph machines–I wore a fair amount of ink–and typing stencils–or more accurately, wrecking them. Fixing mistakes involved blue smelly stuff that didn’t work very well.

          Liked by 3 people

  2. Hm. I pity you and the country you call home.
    I always used to double space after a period until a friend of mine told me that made me look amateurish to publishers.
    He was a university professor, so I assumed he was correct. It’s still hard.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Probably even Rees-Mogg accepts that some of his views are mildly eccentric but, even if we don’t agree with him, at least he generally keeps his temper and insults opponents elegantly. In full flood, he’s a pleasure to watch. Given what’s been going on in my country for the last three years, I think we have to hang on to these small positive features.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Rees-Mogg is such a grotesque throwback of a man in every way possible. I wish we could blast him off to his preferred era in order to get him out of ours.

    As for double-spacing after a full stop, I was still using a manual typewriter (not even an electric typewriter) in the 1990s (too poor for a computer) so I am hard-wired to tap twice after a full stop. It’s muscle memory and “old dogs” syndrome. On an intellectual level, I know it is no longer necessary but I just cannot stop myself.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. You now have a vast array of topics to fill future blog posts Ellen. I (oops) One can only look forward to what may come!
    *Did this blogger make it through the comment without any gaffs or forbidden words? One can only hope… but not fully :)

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Oh gosh. I’m not looking forward. Do you know anything about how to apply for settled status? My friends husband is European and I don’t want him sent away. Well, I care about her more but whatever.
    By the way, there was no comma put in after the and, although it did fit in.
    If only I earned even half as much as she does in her 20 hours in my year I’d feel wealthy.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Aha! There was a comma but the rules (not R-M’s but recognized editorial rules) say the comma has to follow the end of the parentheses. I did worry that people might not find it, but it is there, following the and in its own delayed way.

      Unfortunately, I don’t know anything about applying for settled status. If they have enough money, they should really, really talk to a decent immigration lawyer. I hate to say it, but they’ve made such a complicated mess of this that no one else can find their way through. And yes, never mind the 20 hours a month, most of us could manage on a thousand pounds an hour.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. While I’m very sorry you’re going to have similarly moronic leadership, part of me is looking forward to diplomatic relations in the near future. Donald and Boris? If it weren’t so horrifying it might be amusing…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. As a U.S. resident, the Leader’s grammatical eccentricities are almost charming. Here, some governmental staffers have been forbidden to use words such as “global” or “warming” in close proximity of one another. But I suppose charm is fleeting and subjective. R-M is indeed a scary throwback to a, erm, darker age.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. When the realisation that Britain is rapidly becoming empty of purse, I quite expect to see the double-space nonsense abandoned. My reasoning? Britain will no longer be able to afford to buy paper therefore extreme measures will be taken to conserve the commodity [I hope that word is not black-listed!]
    One is already practicing comma conservancy.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Grammar maketh the man as they say. Well, they don’t really, it’s manners, not grammar, but that doesn’t fit with your wondrous expose (imagine l’accent aigu above the 2nd E please). I never had typing lessons and for some reason have laboured under the misapprehension that there should be three spaces after a full stop. (Full stop being your period, which I can’t use. Not because I’m squeamish, but because I’m from oop north where we call a spade a spade and not a shovel. Anyway, three spaces?? All that paper I’ve wasted over the past millennia and me an eco-warrior​!

    Also, I despair of these people. Sadface.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought it was clothes that maketh the man. Shows you what I know.

      Now: What the hell is the difference between a spade and a shovel? I always wondered what that meant, calling a spade a spade. Especially since we didn’t call shovels spades, we called them shovels. Spades were a suit in a deck of cards. Also a racist term. I’ve often wondered it “calling a spade a spade” was racist, but it didn’t seem to have those overtones. Anyway, the whole thing’s baffled me for many a decade. Enlighten me, please.


      • Originated by Plutarch in some book or other,entered the English language in the 1500’s after some bloke translated it, it means to call things as they really are, be straightforward, be blunt, tell it as it is. Spade as a racist slur not recorded until 1928 in America. Northerners, especially Yorkshire folk are famous for being blunt bordering on rude and their spades are definitely spades. A shovel is a spade too, as is a spatulous device for abrading the surface of soil, but that doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I always understood the meaning of the phrase–probably after someone explained it to me–but even so couldn’t quite make sense of it. Sorry–I’ve always been that way about language, pulling it apart until it made even less sense than it started out making. But Plutarch? Interesting. That means that it could easily have been translated using some synonym–calling a shovel a shovel.

          Sorry, I just disappeared down the rabbit hole. I’ll be in touch if and when I find my way out.

          Liked by 1 person

  11. Happy to see the update on politics there. R-M just sounds weird. If he is rich enough he may be eccentric. The two space debate goes on and in. I was taught in high school to two space. Now changed over. One space lols better, and saves space. President Eisenhower required all memos to be one page only. I think W probably only read the first page, and Trump probably does not get that far. Restricting size on memos also saves paper and space. And there should be a limit on the number of memos. We need to save all the space and paper we can, what with population growth. Talking about that is probably restricted also. Is the word probably restricted. It probably should be.
    Good luck with Brexit and let us know how Boris is working out. I give him six months.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I taught myself to type, from a book, but eventually found work as a legal typist, then a legal secretary. Double spacing after a full stop was the norm. Anyone turning in a draft letter with single spaces after full stops would have been recognised as an amateur, and untrained. Since I was, both, I made very sure to use double spacing! I hadn’t heard of the terms English Spacing and French Spacing but it wouldn’t surprise me as the English tend to preface anything distasteful with French, e.g. French Letter for condom, and I believe the French used to refer to VD as The English Disease. It’s a game we like to play. The comma after ‘and’ is known as an Oxford Comma, a completely pointless item because the and – usually at the end of a list – is performing the same function as a comma would, so why have both. I have a sneaky liking for Jacob Rees-Mogg. He’s just playing a part, you know. His sister Annunciata is also in politics, and sounds perfectly normal.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had to quibble, but it’s what copy editors do (along with misunderstanding people for a living), and I did work as a copy editor. (I’m retired, so I’m happy to allow myself some delicious inconsistencies now.) And with the apology out of the way, the Oxford comma comes before the and. He’s objecting to them coming after it, which is harder to do although still possible.

      Americans call the Oxford comma a series comma. I never heard of the Oxford comma till I moved the Britain.

      In normal life–that is, before I worked as in publishing–I liked the looser feel of not using the series comma, but U.S. book publishing especially leans heavily toward it, so I gave up and got in the habit of using it. Law also uses it because there are situations where not including the comma can create ambiguity. It’s too early in the morning to wring an example out of my brain, but one was in the papers a few years back involving truckers, a lawsuit, and (I think) pensions. The whole thing could have been avoided if the series comma had been mandatory.


      I’m impressed that you taught yourself to type. I eventually had to when I realized it was a useful skill, but I had all those lessons I’d bungled to fall back on so I wasn’t starting from scratch.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I had a boss recently who sent an email to all staff with a hair on fire subject line, so everyone read it immediately and it was about commas, and some words he didn’t want to see in documents. People snickered about it for weeks. As for that spacing, typesetting was one thing, but the advent of proportionally spaced, what you see is what you get fonts on computers made it more possible to do the one space and have a professional look. Of course, there are those documents with all manner of spaces after the periods–1, 2, 3… but it’s much easier to correct than something wrong in a line of type. And, it doesn’t involve hot lead. (how’s that for adding a comma where some folks would hate it?)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Once a nitpicker lets you know how to drive them nuts, it’s hard not to wade in and do it. Over and over.

      When I edited a small (very small) magazine for a writers organization, it (no, I) got to a point where I thought I’d explode if I saw any number of errors again in staff announcements and articles. A double space after a period was one of them–one staff member believed in them. I thought about circulating a list, with the reasons they didn’t work, but i knew no one would pay any attention. So I created a style sheet, which in the publishing world is perfectly natural–and I wasn’t pretending to run a country, after all. They style sheet was funny, so it did get read. And didn’t change a thing. Which is pretty much what the larger part of me had known would happen.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Hi Ellen! “Notes from the UK” always delight and inform — particularly important in these very strange times. Kindest thanks.
    Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson et Jacob William Rees-Mogg live in the rarefied atmosphere that sustains the whole Eton to Parliament rite of passage, a privilege of membership by the mere circumstance of birth and privilege. Their Latin droppings let “those-that-matter” know that “potted plants” are they not.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Oh my God I double space after a full stop! I have to stop now I know JRM does it! A psychologist I shared an office with also did it as well and said it was ‘typing law.’ Copying and pasting my blogs into WP they would turn into single space and I would go into every sentence and add an extra space…. Even when travelling, with bad WiFi, and working solely from my old tablet… Maybe there’s something wrong with me, or is it just English eccentricity?

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I was always taught to double space after a full stop (or period, if you want to call it that). I learned to type while still in school being told I should do that, so it’s natural for me. Any times it doesn’t happen when I’m writing, it’s because whatever I’m typing on changes it. It’s free to do so if it wishes, but personally I’m going to keep doing it the way I always have. Not because someone supposedly important says I should, but because it’s what comes naturally to me after almost 30 years of typing, and I don’t care enough to change the habit.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Hopefully, your new Prime Minister will prove to be very competent during his ongoing term of service, due either to his work ethic, or a lot of other reasons that, when combined equal an amount that you yourself would be pleased to learn about, because, if he proves to be unacceptable, then you’ve got a mess on your hands, what with Brexit and all that.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. What have we become and how do we reverse it? Here in the states we elected an uninformed, uncaring, say anything, true or false, bigot and many still support him. The U.K. appears to be on the same path. Are we becoming more bigoted ourselves? What are we afraid of? I welcome any suggestions on how to change our current direction. Maybe it is just the tail wagging the dog but if so how does the dog get back in charge?

    Liked by 1 person

    • You ask a good question and I’m tempted to recommend tail docking, but let’s try, for a minute, to be serious. I think the bigotry has been there all along, but for a while social sanctions kept some of it under wraps. That’s what all the moaning about political correctness was about: people who didn’t feel free to voice their bigotry. Now they feel free. Whoopy doo.

      My sense of what’s going on is that the old ways no longer work. Wealth is concentrating upwards, jobs and whole industries are disappearing, work is increasingly not a way to make a stable living, and people are furious. Understandably. Moderates (Biden comes to mind) aren’t addressing this and don’t want to. And probably can’t. The solutions will have to be more radical. Over here, Corbyn’s attacked from every side, and I’m sure he’s less than perfect, but he does at least offer an alternative. Whether it’s enough of an alternative I’m not sure, but he’s better than anyone else. And the papers just hate him. Sanders isn’t hated in quite the same way, as far as I can see from here, but he too is trying to address larger issues. It doesn’t sound like he has the same momentum as he did last time he ran, but that’s another question.

      Anyway, short answer: Redistribute wealth downward, because for decades it’s been redistributed upward and people are feeling the pinch. Figure out what to do about disappearing jobs, health care, looming climate disaster, and a few hundred other problems hanging around the world.

      Nothing to it, right?


      • Got it. Let me get to work and I’ll check back in a couple of days.

        Actually I agree with the problems you mentioned. Bigotry certainly seems to have come to the surface including support from some “Christian” groups here in the US. Pushing this bigotry to be more open I believe has much to do with white Anglo types here fearing loss of status.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Bluster Boris. It does have a ring to it.

      When I was a kid, they sold shoes with a picture of a kid in what we called a Dutch boy haircut inside, right where the heel would go, and the slogan (there is a point to all this) was, “I’m Buster Brown. I live in a shoe.” Maybe we could stuff Bluster Boris in one and do something sensible with our future.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Completely off topic, Ellen, but I had to use Lord Google to find your last 3 posts as I no longer get an email notice when you post. Is this part of Brexit or the change in PMs or what ?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh. That’s not good. I’ll ask WordPress–I’ve had an ongoing problem retrieving comments (and although yours showed up, it comes with a note saying WP has failed to retrieve it. But in the absence of proof to the contrary, I blame Boris and the Brexiteers. Thanks for letting me know.

      An addition: WP help says I should ask you to check your spam folder. Would you let me know if you find anything in there? If not, I really should pester them. It might be easier to contact me directly:


  20. Nope – not in Spam or Suspect emails. My spam folder usually checks in once a day and I have n0t seen you there, either, though sometimes it does spam out some addresses it should know. Word press is not always the most welcoming host to me, though. Thanks for checking – hope you can clear it up by Halloween.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Try hitting the follow button again. Or unfollow it and then follow it again. And do let me know if that does anything useful. And I’ll bother WP again. They do try to be helpful.


  21. I was completely oblivious to the double-space rule until I set up home here and people who knew stuff alerted me to the phenomenon. I would like to join in with the act of petulant rebellion, so can I confirm we are to say ‘Go fuck yourself’ in shillings and furlongs?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Um, yeah, sure. I’ve never been able to spell in shillings, furlongs, or anything else even vaguely mathematical, but that’s okay, I understand “Go fuck yourself” in many languages. Even ones I’ve never heard before.

      Liked by 1 person

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