I repent! No more two-spacing! (See!)

Betrayed by my typographical habits...

What a day this is shaping up to be! Lots of great work ahead today, so I will be brief on this post… about a life changing revelation I received this morning!

The revelation came from my wife, in the form of a link to a Slate article about a particular practice in typography. She, herself, found the article on Facebook. The title of the article? “Space Invaders: Why you should never, ever use two spaces after a period.”

The article very thoroughly trashes my lifelong (well, my typing-life lifelong) practice of using two spaces after every period. I’m not the easiest person to convince of life-altering matters like this, mind you, but I thought the case was well presented and the historical origins of the custom provided in the article was very believable.

The switch to one post-period-space is going to be difficult, I know.  I can’t tell you how much concentration it has taken me to only use one space instead of two in this very post. (In fact, I have had to delete several “second spaces” after typing them, including the one before this parenthetical comment.)

Actually, it may help me to avoid an annoyance I’ve noticed on this particular WordPress theme: It seems that whenever the end of one of my sentences is at the end of a line, whenever I use two spaces, the second space always ends up slightly indenting the next sentence on the next line. It could be because previously WordPress was mercifully turning all of my two-spacing into one-spacing as it change my typing into usable HTML, and that since changing themes that benefit has disappeared.

So, for those of you out there who are fellow two-spacers — a noble bunch to be sure, whose ranks from which I am now endeavoring to break free — before you react as virulently as I did at the suggestion that I should abandon the “proper” two space approach, check out the article for yourself. I wasn’t left with much consolation afterwards.

And, yep, I had to delete the two spaces I instinctively made between those last two sentences in the previous paragraph.

It’s going to be a long week…


17 thoughts on “I repent! No more two-spacing! (See!)

  1. Two-spacing indeed has been a long-standing practice, but it has fallen out of favor – that much I know before I read the Slate article (which sounds interesting). I don’t know when I decided to ignore the custom, but it was a long time ago and I’ve been single-spacing since (for me) time immemorial.

  2. I was converted a little over a year ago by a similar article, not to mention my wife, the copy editor. I feel your pain, but after a while, it really becomes less work and doesn’t affect readability as much as I thought it might. However, be warned: if you start listening to typesetters, copy editors and designers, you will hear more about such pet peeves about the use of serifs, non-proportional font sizes and other things that are waaaaay off the radar for us mere mortals.

  3. Enjoy your blogs and will be struggling along with you to not put 2 spaces in between the end of sentences. Will be hard to remember so posting a note to myself at computer. (Did I do this right?)

  4. I’m not sure I totally agree with the article…. At work I have to write a lot of scripts, or pitches. Sometimes one space is perfect for word flow. However, at other times, when you want the reader of the pitch to leave no space for interjection by the customer, it is good to have a dash that connects two words together to speed up the word flow-creating a seamless junction in the sentence.

    Likewise, as with producing a certain effect in a speech, there are times when a written pause is totally necessary within the pitch in order to help the pitcher pitch properly to produce the proper psychological effect. At these junctures sometimes a two space ending works best….

    At other times a complete new paragraph, with a series of periods at the end of the last sentence of the previous paragraph, works best.

    I do, however, agree with the article when it comes to general reading… if the gaps are consistently too big, the reading becomes more difficult or strained because of diminished continuity.

    All that being said, I USUALLY end sentences with two spaces in e-mails, just so there is no confusion as to when a new sentence is actually beginning.


  5. 13brian

    Will have to agree with the article, I have never thought two spacing was relevant, in fact quite wasteful. I can see a perceived usefulness in doing a 10 page history paper??? But, that would only be either rebellion or laziness. Of course, I usually had a problem paring my papers down to the # of pages required.
    In actual paragraph form, I agree with the author, double-spacing is distracting, it doesn’t look right in any font that has varying width for character allowance. That is the purpose of punctuation, clear ending of sentences and statements…
    (With today’s social media and limited characters it makes more sense too…FWIW)

  6. Wow! The single-space approach is backed up by the Associated Press stylebook:

    Now I’m trying to figure out where I was taught to double-space things. That’s what I did in my youth. Hmmmm….

    (Oh yes, that reminds me: do you subscribe to the old COG story that three-period ellipses mean you believe in a trinity?)

  7. Howdy, Richard!

    The article says that two-spacing began with the invention of the typewriter and fixed-width characters, I think.

    As for the ellipsis question, I have never heard that before! Let me think for a moment about whether I believe there is a connection between ellipsis use and belief in the trinity… Hmmm… Nope. 🙂

  8. Linda Patterson

    Once again, the right amount of levity with the right amount of scercious. Yes indeed I did enjoy this thoughts in route. There are all those little things a writer of any sort must know, use or not use. It is good you have help finding these things out. Thank you Mrs. Smith.

  9. Teresa

    Well, I was definitely taught to use two spaces after a period in my 1/2 semester of high school typing. This was in the mid ’70s and I’m sure we were still using manual typewriters. I personally have never taken a longer than necessary pause while reading a paragraph with double spaces after the periods. On the other hand, I presume that I’ve been reading material that has only had one space after sentences for many years and again have been able to absorb the material even though it looks like a massive run-on sentence. It’s all a matter of what you’re used to looking at and what you personally consider aesthetically pleasing. I’ll have to mull this over and decide whether to contrarily buck the stream of humanity while continuing to use double spaces or to submit to fashion and start swimming with the single spaced current.

  10. Steven

    I TOTALLY disagree with using only one space after a period. Here is the rationale. First, the WHOLE PURPOSE of putting two spaces (after a period) is to differentiate between commas and periods. “Correct English grammar” dictates that one must use one space after a comma and two after a period. Moreover, using two spaces after a period also helps separate the sentences for easier reading. These are basic principles taught to me by one of the greatest English teachers ever (Mr. Terry Crooks) in my Grade 13 high school English class. Mr. Crooks would punish any students with an ungodly passion by deducting 1 mark every time that mistake was made. Another grammatical error that drives me crazy is when people start a sentence with words like “but”, “and”, “this” or “because”. Again, that is not proper English! The Queen’s English!!! For Heaven’s sake people! Learn how to communicate properly using the English language. Here is a great example a friend of mine used:

    In English why must we never start a sentence with AND or BUT?

    “because using these words would be related to the previous sentence and therefore should be in the previous sentence. Quite hard to explain, but if you try to use one of these words it becomes clear why.

    Look at the sentence above…wouldn’t it be stupid to put a full stop after the word “explain” and begin a new sentence with “but” because it all belongs in the same sentence.”

    In plain English (pardon the pun), you never start a new sentence with a sentence fragment.

    I rest my case your Honour.

  11. Ah, Steven, your words reflect my own reaction, though I can no longer agree with them. As your words imply, the purpose of “Correct English Grammar” is proper understanding, and, as such, it is the servant of the times, not the master. Just as “they” was once an acceptable written singular pronoun in the days of Jane Austen and is no more, many things fall victim to time. Two-spacing really does seem to be a product of the typewriter age that some, however well intentioned and sincere, seem to have mistaken for a broader grammar rule, in general.

    As for beginning sentences with “and” or “but,” I used to be more of a stickler in my writing, until I realized, again, that such choices are at the mercy being more fully understood–which, in turn, is dependent on so much more than word choice considering how much communication is non-verbal. For those who are struggling to communicate in a written medium more than words alone normally can, bending the rules of accepted grammar is, in some venues, more beneficial to fully communicating things such as tone, emphasis, mood, etc. than obeying them. Is our goal obey the rules of written communication or actually communicating?

    Case in point, the “And, yep…” towards the end of my post. Bad grammar to be sure, unless I had (1) joined the two sentences to make a truly compound sentence, or (2) joined them with punctuation of some sort, such as with a dash or ellipsis, that would allow me to make the desired visual pause-implying-break while still preventing a sentence begun with a conjunction.

    Yet, neither of those options really communicated what I was aiming for: an air of humor (successfully executed or not, I’m certainly no one to judge) that relies on the reader’s (in my mind, “listener’s”) truly believing you to be done with the first thought before continuing with the second, while, at the same time crafting the second thought as though it were conceived before it were written and a continuance of the conversation he or she thought had been completed. In this sense, any dash or ellipsis would have ruined the gag, just as the lack of an “and” would have lessened it’s impact, as well. Hence my very conscious choice to cast grammar aside for the sake of humorous success. 🙂

    Believe it or not, I have spent a lot of time thinking about this very thing (even specifically the use of “and” and “but” at the beginning of a sentence), my concerns being catalyzed by the fact that I know write teleprompter scripts for myself and my need to capture my “speaking voice” in print. It’s not that I have a lot of time on my hands, but, rather, a side effect of caring very much for my craft. Additionally, as a mathematician, I was moved (and fascinated) many years ago by Jerry P. King’s explanation of purposefully introducing necessary illogical speech to better communicate rigorous mathematical truths,and I have discovered that the principle he addresses applies to writing in some environments, as well.

    Sorry to be so long winded, but I appreciated your comment and apparent like-mindedness, and it seemed a nice opportunity to talk about something I have thought about for long, long time!

    And, yes, I’m ending the comment with this “initial ‘and’ sentence” just to be funny. 🙂

    Thanks for your thoughts, and have a great day!

  12. Roger Meyer

    Space. The final frontier.
    I will endeavor to explore this new green world of energy saving typing. If one space will do, why use two? On the other hand, the space bar is one of the only keys that gives you white space. We use the space bar more than any other key! God made lots of space, so I don’t see why we need to be so stingy about using it. And I don’t want to hear about language “evolving” either – it was created! My typing teacher was only a few generations removed from Noah. She knew original typing. I can still hear her count the cadence: … period space space Capital T….

  13. Leona D

    [Disclaimer: This reply is riddled with double-spaces. Deal with it. I’m not in the print business, and I’m certainly no typographer.]

    Interestingly enough, in the ‘world of web’ this issue is pretty much mute. Unless you’re using ‘pre’ tags around everything, your browser will treat any number of spaces (and returns, and tabs, for that matter) as a single space. While I can see the benefit of utilizing only one space, I also feel that some fonts (and not just monospaced fonts, as the article states) benefit from a double-space at the end of sentences. The one that quickly comes to mind is the new Microsoft Word default, Calibri, in which a single space at the end of sentences seems to leave me with the feeling that my sentences are mushed together; they almost run over each other. Blech! I figure each sentence is a complete thought (or should be…let’s not get into sentence fragments here) and each thought deserves to have a little bit of space. If I truly want emphasis or a pause, tabs or returns will do nicely.

    This whole argument for single spaces begs a couple additional questions:
    1) How many spaces do you put after colons now?
    2) What about using ‘etc.’ or other abbrs. in the middle of a sentence? (I thought your sentence was done, but then I ran into this lower-case letter! Something’s not right here… Did you mean to keep going or did you really mean to capitalize that letter? I just don’t know. It’s so hard to tell!! If only you made a practice of double-spacing at the end of your sentences; then I could know with certainty.)

    Fact is, there’s a whole host of ‘two-spacers’ out there. There are probably even teachers still out there teaching it in keyboarding/typing classes. Also, with the way things go, 10 years from now the ‘convention’ may change yet again. Frankly, if you’re not in the print business or writing to a typographer, you’re probably perfectly OK typing either way. However, be certain to maintain consistency within any one piece of writing; no one wants to see a mix of single and double-spaced sentence endings.

  14. I can’t tell you how delighted I am this little post has resulted in so many responses. 🙂 Personally, I am tired of trying to hold my two-spacing back (as you may be able to tell from this comment). As Khan said of Kirk, it tasks me. My neuron-usage is at a premium these days, and I just don’t think that I can afford any spares to devote to changing this habit. And I think you make some great points, there, Leona D. Great points, or great excuses, I’ll take them where I can get them!

  15. There’s as much fervor over two spaces as the spaces-vs-tabs
    argument. You should see how long the Wikipedia article for
    is. I picked up two-spaces from Vi (VIM).
    I like to use plain text since it’s the lowest common
    denominator. Space is the only means of layout. That brings
    up the tabs-vs-spaces argument. Monospace, then, is the only
    way to maintain layout in plain text. However, it’s all about the
    words, so formatting and layout are unimportant. Therefore,
    I’ll be keeping my two-spaces from the monospace tradition of
    typewriters. Problem is,
    some designers use typography to make text unreadable.

    Readability of the web is why I switched from Internet
    Explorer to Firefox. Firefox had text zooming, and later
    added page
    zooming. It’s makes the text readable. Another feature in web
    browsers I use is minimum font size. It makes Facebook and
    other websites readable. However, it ruins pixel perfect
    layout. Similarly, HTML email is a pet peeve. It often has
    the readability problem of the web. Some of my email uses the
    signature “O< ascii ribbon campaign – stop html mail –
    http://www.asciiribbon.org.&quot; I'd rather use the following, but not
    everyone displays plain text email in monospace:

    ASCII ribbon campaign ( )
     against HTML e-mail   X
                          / \
    I like the simple interface of the Sparrow Mail app but
    it doesn't support plain text they way I want.  
    If we can't agree on simple things like:
    * sentence spacing
    * line endings
    * tabs vs spaces      (spaces!)
    * file format         (plain text, except when...)
    * character encodings (I favor US-ASCII, but that's some history)
    Is it a surprise we don't agree on government?  What character
    encoding would we use if the world used a single perfect
    is a brilliant in between, but not everyone parses it.
    Non-breaking space ( ) is the other means of keeping your
    spaces in HTML.

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