The Second Eclectic

Technology changes how we relate to God and each other

Meaningful Space

(Reading Time: 3.75 minutes. It’s only half as long as it looks.)

If you look at most King James Bibles, you probably won’t notice it right away. In addition to the obvious ancient-feeling language, the world of 1611 left behind other residue that hasn’t really come out in the wash. If you take a look, you’ll notice that

every verse is its own

paragraph. But in the same way that all italics is really no italics or all bold is really no bold, all paragraphing is really no paragraphing. If everyone is special, no one is actually special. The KJV’s unique style of paragraphing was something that came to my attention just today at work. In one of the editions we published, we decided to update the text with a more contemporary paragraphing system—one that

most of us take for granted in our reading. Someone asked why we’d made this change, so I had to think of an answer. What do paragraph styles matter? Why make the change? Paragraphing, you’re thinking, He’s writing about paragraphing. You’re all thrilled,

I know. Why, indeed. When I learned about paragraphs in grade school, I had trouble grasping when I should start a new paragraph. My teacher explained that when a new subject was started, a new paragraph should be used to indicate that. But I found that my new paragraphs often built on ideas from the previous paragraphs. It wasn’t so cut

and dried. Now, I recognize my teacher was simplifying it somewhat for my small brain, but not by much. I would explain it today by saying, when you start in a new direction, or turn a corner, start a new paragraph. But I also know, paragraphing is a bit arbitrary. Until I get an email from someone and it’s one, long, single, stream-of-consciousness paragraph. Then I’m longing for paragraphs. That’s what makes paragraphs interesting. The text itself is not cueing you that a new paragraph is beginning. It’s actually the white space—or negative space—that’s indicating to you that a change has occurred. In other words, paragraphing communicates meaning visually, but not verbally. Let me go back to what I said earlier about the KJV, “all paragraphing is really no paragraphing.” In some sense, the paragraphing in the King James Bible is like those long, run-on emails. Sure there’s the relief of more white space, but there aren’t meaningful clusters of sentences. There’s no indication of when the writer is starting off in a new direction, onto a new subject, or turning a corner. Every paragraph looks pretty much the same. You rely much more heavily on what the text says than you do on

how the text looks. You’re constantly looking

for those words like therefore, then, next, after,

later
—words that communicate

sequence in time or thought to the reader. Paragraphs can help

communicate this in place of using those words. It’s a creative use of visual space. Why didn’t the KJV use paragraphs? Well, I have a theory. In 1611, most people spent more time talking than reading. Reading was a relatively new, but growing, activity. The printing press was encouraging that. Still, most people talked or listened more than they wrote or read. How would you visually organize a conversation you had with a friend, or a speech or sermon you listened to? You wouldn’t. You didn’t think in visual terms. It wasn’t necessary because you listened to

it. They used words like therefore, then, next, after, later—words that communicate sequence in time or thought to the hearer. And instead of bold and italics they used vocal inflections and intonations to emphasize the important words. They didn’t think in visual terms. Paragraphs didn’t have a strong corollary in speech. Thus,

the first readers of the King James Bible didn’t hear a need for reading paragraphs. But things have changed. Print has heightened our visual awareness in the

last 400

years. Paragraphs

mean

something now.

We

don’t just

read

the words;

we read the spaces as

well, and the quote marks, exclamation points, periods, question marks, italics, bold, and commas.

On the other hand, what if we verbalized punctuation in our everyday conversations?


THE END.

By contrast, below, you’ll find this post paragraphed in a “sensible” way.

If you look at most King James Bibles, you probably won’t notice it right away. In addition to the obvious old-feeling language, the world of King James I of England left behind other residue that hasn’t really come out in the wash. If you take a look, you’ll notice that every verse is its own paragraph. But in the same way that all italics is really no italics or all bold is really no bold, all paragraphing is really no paragraphing. If everyone is special, no one is actually special.

The KJV’s unique style of paragraphing was something that came to my attention just today at work. In one of the editions we published, we decided to update the text with a more contemporary paragraphing system—one that most of us take for granted in our reading. Someone asked why we’d made this change, so I had to think of an answer. What do paragraph styles matter? Why make the change?

Paragraphing, you’re thinking, He’s writing about paragraphing. You’re all thrilled, I know.

Why, indeed. When I learned about paragraphs in grade school, I had trouble grasping when I should start a new paragraph. My teacher explained that when a new subject was started, a new paragraph should be used to indicate that. But I found that my new paragraphs often built on ideas from the previous paragraphs. It wasn’t so cut and dried. Now, I recognize my teacher was simplifying it somewhat for my small brain, but not by much. I would explain it today by saying, when you start in a new direction, or turn a corner, start a new paragraph. But I also know, paragraphing is a bit arbitrary.

Until I get an email from someone and it’s one, long, single, stream-of-consciousness paragraph. Then I’m longing for paragraphs. That’s what makes paragraphs interesting. The text itself is not cueing you that a new paragraph is beginning. It’s actually the white space—or negative space—that’s indicating to you that a change has occurred.

In other words, paragraphing communicates meaning visually, but not verbally.

Let me go back to what I said earlier about the KJV, “all paragraphing is really no paragraphing.” In some sense, the paragraphing in the King James Bible is like those long, run-on emails. Sure there’s the relief of more white space, but there aren’t meaningful clusters of sentences. There’s no indication of when the writer is starting off in a new direction, onto a new subject, or turning a corner. Every paragraph looks pretty much the same. You rely much more heavily on what the text says than you do on how the text looks. You’re constantly looking for those words like therefore, then, next, after, later—words that communicate sequence in time or thought to the reader. Paragraphs can help communicate this in place of using those words. It’s a creative use of visual space.

Why didn’t the KJV use paragraphs? Well, I have a theory. In 1611, most people spent more time talking than reading. Reading was a relatively new, but growing, activity. The printing press was encouraging that. Still, most people talked or listened more than they wrote or read.

How would you visually organize a conversation you had with a friend, or a speech or sermon you listened to? You wouldn’t. You didn’t think in visual terms. It wasn’t necessary because you listened to it. They used words like therefore, then, next, after, later—words that communicate sequence in time or thought to the hearer. And instead of bold and italics they used vocal inflections and intonations to emphasize the important words. They didn’t think in visual terms. Paragraphs didn’t have a strong corollary in speech. Thus, the first readers of the King James Bible didn’t hear a need for reading paragraphs.

But things have changed. Print has heightened our visual awareness in the last 400 years. Paragraphs mean something now. We don’t just read the words; we read the spaces as well, and the quote marks, exclamation points, periods, question marks, italics, bold, and commas.
Your mom taught you well