Here are a couple of transcribing decisions and my rationale.
- I’m not going to label every misspelling with a bracketed sic, because I’m trying to capture the flavor of each letter, and the mistakes are part of the authenticity. I’m just going to assume that readers will notice the errors, as I did, and likewise know what should have been written. Marking all the errors is just too intrusive and makes it seem as if I’m both editing for correctness and grading an essay. In the end, if you read a letter and do not recognize that your should have been you’re, it doesn’t really matter. I’m not transcribing to give readers a spelling lesson.
- I have never seen anyone use so many dashes–I thought I used a lot of them in my writing, but these letters rival Emily Dickinson. I had first transcribed them using two hyphens, letting Microsoft Word turn that into an em dash. I typed them as I have been trained in MLA Style with no spaces before or after, so that the dash butted up against the words it separated. Technically that seemed fine to me, but aesthetically, it just did not represent well the handwriting style. Walt’s dashes definitely have space around them and I want that to come across. Now, some of the handwritten dashes are clearly the long dash, or em dash, but some are shorter, and I’m sure I could get away with an en dash in many places, but it’s not that clear, so for uniformity, I’m using the long dash for all of them, with spaces before and after.
Here are images of a handwritten paragraph, the original transcription with marked errors and closed dashes, and the more readable transcription with unmarked errors and spaced out dashes:
Original handwritten paragraph
Initial transcription with marked errors and closed dashes
Final transcription with unmarked errors and spaced out dashes
You might also notice the punctuation in the salutation of a colon followed by a dash. This punctuation is used frequently, not just in letter openings, often with the dash seeming to come right out of the center of the colon. In a few cases, there are dashes that begin over a period, as if the rest of the colon had been forgotten. I’ve looked for any references to such punctuation before, but today I must have stumbled upon the right Google search terms, because I immediately found an origin in British English, with this explanation:
Citing usage from 1949, the OED calls this mark the dog’s bollocks, which it defines as, “typogr. a colon followed by a dash, regarded as forming a shape resembling the male sexual organs.” This is why I love scrounging around the linguistic scrap heap that is the OED. I always come across a little gold. And by “gold,” I mean, “vulgar, 60-year-old emoticons.”
In Britain the exclamation mark is sometimes referred to as a dog’s prick, and that, further, the combination of a colon and a dash (:—), out of fashion now but long used to represent a restful pause, is known as a dog’s bollocks.
13 July 2020: Well I did end up typing the dashes as you would today, and I did end up using sic to indicate obvious misspellings, and there are other bracketed notes. I guess it was just easier to use the academic style I was familiar with.