You Have a Point There: A Guide to Punctuation and Its Allies

By Eric Partridge | Go to book overview

Chapter 20

INDENTION AND PARAGRAPHING

§ 1:

Indention

INDENTION * OR indenting is the act of starting a line or indeed a set of lines a little way in from the margin of the text; hence an indention is also the space thus left free of handwritten or typewritten or printed matter-in printing, the space left at the beginning of a paragraph is quite often that occupied by an em-quad. † In this work, as the type measure is 25 ems the paragraph indention is ems. When a book has a measure of 30 ems or over, the indent is usually 2 ems. Paragraph indention, by the way, arises from that habit of early printers, following the practice of scribes, which consists in leaving a blank space for the insertion of a large initial by the illuminator.

Obviously there is indention other than that which indicates the beginning of a new paragraph. Consider the following mixture of prose and verse:

Milton is recognized as the greatest British epic poet and one of the three or four greatest of all epic poets.

His finest poem is Paradise Lost, although one would hardly deduce that fact from the following:

Say first-for Heaven hides nothing from thy view,
Nor the deep tract of Hell-say first what cause
Moved our grand Parents, in that happy state,
Favoured of Heaven so highly, to fall off
From their Creator-and transgress his will
For one restraint, lords of the world besides.
Who first seduced them to that foul revolt?
The infernal Serpent; he it was whose guile,
Stirred up with envy and revenge, deceived
The mother of mankind……

* From indent, literally to make a tooth-like incision at the edge, from dens (genitive dentis), a tooth; instead of indentation.

Paragraph: French paragraphe: Late Latin paragraphus: Greek παράγραφoς, paragraphos, a line, a stroke, drawn at the side: paragraphein, to write (grapheiri) beside (para).

† A quad (short for quadrat) is a piece of metal used by printers for spacing; an em quad has 'length' equal to the 'width' of the letter m.

-165-

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