Abbreviations. We all know what they are. We all know them when we see them. We all know that Mr is pronounced “mister” and not “mur,” and that Mrs is “missus” and not “murse.” And what about St? Well, we all know that that’s either a saint or a street, that Blvd is “boulevard” and not “blivid.” We all know that. And that’s why I’ve consistently not put periods after abbreviations in anything I’ve written for the past who knows how many years. If some editor wants to come along and do that, fine. But I’m not doing it, because I know that we all know that things like Mr, Mrs, St, Blvd, and Dr are abbreviations. We don’t need it spelled out for us.
Or so I thought. Marla Fishman may have changed my mind.
Marla Fishman is the Spanish teacher in my upcoming short story 20 Candles. I didn’t refer to her as Marla in the beginning; I started by talking about her as Sra Fishman.
And that’s where the trouble started.
As my wife was reading a draft of the story to our 10-year-old daughter, she assumed it was a typo, and read it as Sara Fishman. Um…no. Her first name is Marla, but she’s the Spanish teacher, so she’s Sra Fishman…you know, Señora Fishman.
Cheryl suggested that maybe when I introduced the character, I should actually spell the word out, since most people wouldn’t know that Sra was the abbreviation for Señora when they first saw it.
Oh. Well, I suppose that made sense.
But then I got to thinking about the rest of the story, and that abbreviation. Sure, I knew that Sra was the abbreviation for Señora, but actually, I think Cheryl did too, because she’s taken as much Spanish as I have. I think that what caused the confusion in her case was not having any context for it yet. Not knowing yet that Marla was a Spanish teacher made her think that “Sra” was a typo rather than an abbreviation.
On the other hand, putting the period there would’ve signaled to her that this was an abbreviation for something, that it was an abbreviation that she might not already be familiar with.
So what do I do now? Do I now start consistently placing periods after all of my abbreviations, just in case I ever have to deal with another Spanish teacher, or use some other abbreviation that the general public might not be familiar with?
I really don’t want to do that. Stylistically, I like the idea of not having a period in the middle of a sentence.
I guess the smartest thing to do to consistently follow Cheryl’s advice. When I know I’m about to use an abbreviation that people might not be familiar with, I’ll spell it out the first time, and then figure that people are smart enough to realize that what they see later on is the abbreviation.
And this means that none of the women I write about will ever have a period.