One or two spaces after a period? The controversy continues…

I have so much I want to blog about right now! I would like to post something on the presentation I attended last Sunday night featuring Intelligent Design advocate Michael Behe, and the review commentary I wrote about the Noah movie (spoiler: pro-Satan propaganda) has motivated some interesting comments, and I would love to post some additional thoughts I have had about the flick–but all of that will have to wait. Because something much more pressing and important has come to my attention: News on the front of the acrimonious “One Space/Two Spaces after a Period” war.

So much needless bloodshed... er... I guess, inkshed. Will there be peace in our time?
So much needless bloodshed… er… inkshed. Will there be peace in our time?

OK, it really isn’t that pressing. But we have discussed it here on the blog before (“I repent! No more two-spacing! (See!)” – 1/17/2011). The new information comes from a daily newsletter I enjoy from DailyWritingTips. The original post is titled “One or Two Spaces After a Period?” and is worth a read for those like me who are more interested in such things than they should be.

The new post references the same Slate article I mentioned in my previous post but gives additional historical detail and takes a much more moderate tone. Actually, now that I go back and read the Slate article, it is amusing how the author, Farhad Manjoo, comes across. The committed one-spacer says, “What galls me about two-spacers isn’t just their numbers. It’s their certainty that they’re right.” And how does he start off his column? “Can I let you in on a secret? Typing two spaces after a period is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong.” I can’t call it outright hypocrisy — after all, one can be galled about how certain another is about his rightness when the thing when the source of your gall is your certainty he is wrong. But, still, it is amusing. Perhaps due to the fact that it is Slate, it reminds me of society’s self-contradictory cries of “I refuse to tolerate intolerance!”

The demands of writing within technological environments that either erase my double spaces or ruin my formatting with them (e.g., WordPress sometimes turns two spaces after a period ending a line into an awkward line-leading space on the next line) have made me a conscript of sorts, serving the one-space side of the divide, but I do admit that my heart still lies with the two-spacers.

Anyway, the author at DailyWritingTips, Maeve Maddox, is much more balanced than Manjoo, and the piece gives some nice historical details. Check out the article, and while you are busy being enthralled by tales from the “One Space/Two Spaces” war, I will try to get some Behe and Noah-related thoughts out of my head and onto this blog in the near future.

16 thoughts on “One or two spaces after a period? The controversy continues…

  1. Rachel Robichaud

    Haha this reminds me of an incident in college, when our Traditionalist-aged teacher realized none of us were indenting our paragraphs. It sparked a 30 minute debate: to indent or not to indent.

  2. Ally Maddox

    Well, she has the right name. This has been a buggyboo of mine for some time. I’m just glad that you brought up her website, because it is very informative. I bookmarked it. And, BTW, I’m a single-spacer. Most publishers want that, and since that was my desire from the foggy days of yesteryear, that’s credence enough for me. 🙂

  3. Steven

    The reality is, there is no war. Either something is correct or it is not. Fact is, I was always taught by every teacher, instructor, professor and professional (all of them….100% of them) that you ALWAYS leave two spaces after a period and one space after a comma. Aside from the archaic reasoning about old typewriter setups etc., that is NOT the REAL reason why two spaces is correct.

    There are three main (real) reasons for this standard in the English language:

    1) It differentiates commas from periods. If you only leave one space for both, then what you are really saying is that commas and periods are the same thing (which they are NOT!);

    2) It makes the spacing of a letter or document “proper” in the sense that one can easily identify where sentences start and end; and

    3) It is PROFESSIONAL! Anyone who uses only one space for both is not only wrong, but incredibly lazy. It’s amazing how standards have eroded over the years.

    There you have it. I could easily write about ten pages on this subject, but this sums it up nicely.

  4. By default, I use one space. If the editor of a publication wants two, I give him two. Simple. 🙂 I need no further justification than my own preference on the one hand and what makes for group harmony on the other. 😀

  5. Thanks, everyone. And, Steven, I will simply say thank you for not writing ten pages on the matter. 🙂 [And I note that your comment only has one space after each of the periods, clearly contrary to your desires. Professional publishing companies tend to reduce two spaces to one these days, and, apparently, so does comment-publishing software such as WordPress. Perhaps your ten pages would help them see the light. 🙂 ]

  6. Steven

    FIrst off Mr. Smith, the name is “Steven” and NOT “Stephen”. Second, I DID LEAVE TWO SPACES after each period, but your blog software automatically sets it back to one.

  7. Howdy, again, Steven. First, my apologies about the misspelling of your name, and I will go back and correct it in the comment. There is a “Stephen” who comments occasionally here on the blog, as well, and I got my spellings confused. Secondly, I figured that it was the WordPress software that adjusted your comment and that it did not match your original typing. I tried to imply that in my own comment, but apparently I did so unclearly. No need to go all caps on everyone. Again, my apologies for being unclear. It seems that a lot of software formatting routines remove such double spaces nowadays to match the current professional standard (which is one space), and your machine-edited comments apparently reflect that. Thanks, again, Steven.

  8. I will refrain from writing my own ten pages describing at length how Rameses II’s quip about Moses, just before God used him to turn the Nile into blood (in Cecil B. DeMille’s THE TEN COMMANDMENTS), applies here, as it applies so often.

    Instead, I will offer a counterexample showing how professional printing standards have changed from days of yore. Not only periods, but colons and semicolons, have two spaces after them in this document’s introduction, which text for me is of historical interest for other reasons. The issue is complicated by the express desire to justify both margins but one should be able to discern how spacing between words, and sometimes even after commas, is so affected (they didn’t have automated spacing then). In some cases the periods are deliberately and precisely given but one space after them (in the list of Psalms ending the introduction). This then-famous document dates to 1621 (PDF, 13 MB):

    http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/ravenscroft/psalter/all.pdf

    So now let us all lament how our standards have fallen from these. Poor colons and semicolons, they must feel so left out these days. 🙂 I won’t even talk about the use of italics and capital letters, so florid and dramatic then. 😀 But then, that era of the world was driven by the kind of enthusiasm linked to extraverted intuition. It shows by the chief fault it makes. Mistaking one’s personal values for universal values as Steve is doing – that is the chief fault of the era immediately preceding ours, in which our predecessor in God’s Work grew up.

    It is true in general, as the document states, that what man does is perfected by degrees. But who is to say that using one space instead of two after a period isn’t such a perfection? Leaving aside Steve’s nearsightedness either literally or figuratively, nobody mistakes a comma for a period, nobody has any trouble knowing when a document begins and ends, and not everybody either has now or had in the recent past the same “professional” standards.

    That is why: by default, I use one space; it is more efficient. When an editor asks me for two, I give him two. Either way, everybody can read and understand what I say.

  9. obeirne

    I haven’t been sure on this, so I sometimes alternated between one and two. Now that I know better, I will try to follow the rule. Thank you for raising the matter, Mr. Smith.

  10. Steve

    Back in the Stone Age, I was taught to use two spaces. That’s what I’m used to, so I’ll stick with it. So sue me. 🙂

  11. Well, I feel obliged to speak up for the two spacers. 🙂 In reality, I believe a lot of the new “standards”, or lack of them perhaps, are made by young people with much better eyesight. Far too often I find myself squinting at small print, running over periods that look sort of like commas, only to have to go back and re-read the thing to make sense.

    While on the topic of WordPress, it really annoys me because it will even strip non-breaking space that I hardcode into articles in order to “indent” some things. Just yesterday, in fact, I was trying to paste something in from a more modern translation of Isaiah, and I finally gave up trying to vertically align the text from the verse number. Is “” an HTML code?

  12. Well, who’da thought this would be such an invigorating topic? 🙂

    For the record, I prefer the two-spaces after a period. But I recognize things change, and I am not married to one or the other (even if I would rather take one to the dance instead of the other).

    And, Steven, I don’t see a need to post the odd, reactionary comment I see from you in the queue. John Wheeler wasn’t claiming to be “‘the authority’ on everything” — rather, he was responding to your claim to be such an authority, which is probably more irritating in the context of your frequently expressed sense of such authority.

    I suggest that both of you chill a bit. You’ve each had a chance to express your judgment about someone else’s opinion (John: Your judgment of Steven’s opinion of himself; Steven: Your judgment of literally everyone who disagrees with you). John, just because you see a chip on someone’s shoulder, that is no reason to knock it off. Learn some self control, my friend. (I need to learn that, too.) Steven, just because your opinion makes perfect sense to you doesn’t make those who differ with you lazy, ignorant, unprofessional, etc. Learn to hold your opinions in humility, my friend. I would ask that any future comments from either of you expressing your opinion on such clearly important and life-altering topics such as this one about typing conventions be restricted to just that: expressing your opinion. If you want to be combative or to express an unjustified personal judgment on the opinions of others, please seek out another blog discussing this vital, earth-shaking topic.

    Be nice. Be generous. Don’t be a jerk. Simple, right? 🙂 Y’all do those things, and I will try to do the same.

    Thanks, again, everyone! Glad to see I’ve tapped something that brings out such passions!

  13. Norbert

    I doubt that using either one space or two spaces in writing would make the important part of communication any clearer. As you mention, ” I tried to imply that in my own comment, but apparently I did so unclearly.” I seriously doubt two spacing would have solved this issue we all may have from time to time.

    Or take it to another level, if the Bible used two spacing would more people suddenly understand the gospel?

    I see it as mostly an aesthetic thing (not saying there is no practical use for it), much like in my own trade. Where for some applications of welding aluminum, car enthusiasts prefer a continuous stitch weld over a constant stream weld because it looks “cooler”.

  14. Wow! I had forgotten that back in elementary school someone taught me to double space after periods. Apparently by the time I was writing research papers in college (circa 2006-2010) that was no longer in vogue. Or perhaps it was just my instructors’ preference.

    Nonetheless, I’m just dropping by here to see if your review of Michael Behe would be posted yet. I wasn’t expecting such a historical and literary education 🙂

  15. Loni Oliver

    Not using a second space at the sentence’s end must save paper, as does eliminating much of the punctuation (commas) we formerly used. Losing the second space is not the end of the world, but, in my opinion, it does make the sentence break more obvious, and well-placed commas makes for much easier, speedier reading. So often these days, I have to reread a comma-free sentence several times before I can parse it in the way the author intended. It’s much easier to eliminate all those pesky rules of punctuation, but clarity suffers.

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