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Just one space, please

I thought most people knew this already.

In the “Maxims for editors” post, I reminded readers, “Don’t type two spaces after a period.” Now I’m hearing from people who wonder why. It’s simple. When people used typewriters (Little Ones, ask Gramps to tell you about typewriters), they were taught to type two spaces after a period to make clear where sentences ended and began. That is because typewriters used monotype fonts, in which each character took up as much space as any other.

Word-processing programs, like those used by newspapers, magazines, and book publishers, use proportional fonts—an m takes up more space than an i. With proportional fonts, the additional space after a period is unnecessary. This has been endorsed by The Chicago Manual of Style. In fact, editors preparing texts for publication have to take the trouble of excising the additional spaces after periods if you persist in inserting them.

Unless you are still using an Underwood or a Remington, it’s time you broke yourself of the habit.

 

 

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 5:28 PM | | Comments (31)
        

Comments

Note, however, that browsers will remove runs of spaces (or other white space) in HTML. Consequently, the two spaces I typed just before this sentence will appear as only one to you.

APA in its initially error-filled, ultimately recalled sixth edition, suggested a return to double spaces after the period. It has clarified this to say basically, "it's only a suggestion," and only for manuscript submissions. We editors for hire find ourselves grudgingly accepting this at times. Authors will write with a single space then alter the document for two spaces and submit it to a scholarly journal that, despite having asked for two spaces, will remove a space after each period before publication. I edited a paper recently that quoted "W.__E.__B.___Dubois."

Back in the days before desktop publishing, I was a typesetter operator, using a computer dedicated solely to creating typography for publications. On that computer, if I were to tap the space bar twice, it would insert one space and then just beep at me. It was impossible to put two ordinary “space bands” in a row. Yet I still hear from people who argue fiercely that a sentence should be followed by two spaces because that’s what they learned in Typing class in high school – or even in computer-based Keying class. I have a feeling it will be a long time (if ever) before we get rid of the two-space habit.

How about a post for each of the maxims for editors?

It's not easy to break oneself of a habit one has had since the days of typewriters.

I faintly (and perhaps wrongly) remember that beautiful Xywrite, our first Globe editing system, may it rest in peace, didn't care whether you typed one space or two. Fixed spaces other than the automatic word space had to be manually inserted (e.g., thin space). Aren't word processing programs smart enough to interpret a period plus space -- one or two -- as simply a (variable) word space?

But on websites like this where the font is small, sometimes the period cannot be discerned well (especially for those over 40) so the extra space still has relevance.

So we should be tolerant of those that still use two spaces and not have hissy fits when they do.

This shouldn't be a problem with anyone under 50ish, I think.
I mentioned the word "Royal" in a yak about writing with a young reporter, and the blank look back said "Royal?"
"Royal was a typewriter manufacturer. It was my favorite machine."
The smiling look back said "hopelessly old."
I admit, however, I use even more paragraphs than before when I think sentences are running together because of the look on the editing screen.

This is the first I've heard of the one-space-only rule. I find it's easier to read paragraphs if there are two spaces between sentences, and I'm nowhere near 50 years old yet.

Ever since learning of this rule (I was taught in grade school to type two spaces after a period), I've developed an absurd ability to spot double spaces, even on a zoomed-out computer screen. Oh, the skills we pick up.

Also, rules like these make me adore the "find and replace all" feature.

I disagree. Since fonts can frequently be quite small, a double space after a period is very helpful in distinguishing it from a comma. Many of the electronic texts we read are in a small font. The double space indicates the clear end of one sentence and the beginning of another.

Like Kristina V., I've developed an eye for double spaces. A few months ago I even saw a triple space on a website, though that was the least of its problems.

There's a local voluntary group for whom I do some pro bono editing, and its chief writer is utterly unable to shake the habit. (He's an old friend; I've tried various strategies, all ineffective.) It's not always a big deal, but it can look especially bad in narrow columns with justified text.

Your single-space maxim was just starting to win me over, John, until this morning when I found myself typing a sentence whose subject was "Dr. Lee"—something like this:

"There are exceptions, of course. Dr. Lee Smith is one."

My eye keeps getting stuck on that "Dr," dangling as it seems to be between two equidistant full-stops.

I'm afraid the two-space sentence gap is going to end up with the Oxford comma in my "let the editor fix it if she insists" file.

I suspect that you noticed the "Dr. Lee" sentence only because you had been briefly sensitized to the spacing issue by this post. Readers are so conditioned to see patterns, one of which is a name following "Dr.," that I doubt that anyone in normal circumstances would see it floating isolated between two sentences.

And you may certainly let the editor fix it in your text, and the editor surely will, because excising the superfluous spaces before publication is one more mechanical task that editors have been saddled with.

@Joe Z.
Hissy fits? Not really. John did say "please."

...not have hissy fits when they do...

I've seen McI put his foot firmly - probably immoveably - down although, memory says that the subject was not usually grammar. On video, I have seen him become a tad exercised over certain pronunciations but I have never seen a hissy fit from his corner. An entire quadrant of my family is given over to high drama and hissy fits and I cannot imagine John among them.

Journalism 101: space is money. A double space after the period will just cost you more.

At this late stage of life, most of it spent typing - from a manual Underwood, to electric, Western Union teletype, an computer keyboard, any attempt to switch from two spaces to one would seriously undermine my 180wpm speed. Not worth it, thank you.

One thing to remember, though, is that there are still some people in publishing who -- for whatever reason -- prefer to read Courier: a monospace font.

When using a monospace font, it is still necessary to put two spaces after the period. It's also easier to change two spaces to one using 'find and replace' than it is to insert the second space throughout a document.

For these reasons, I still type my own documents with two spaces after the period. At work, I use one space. It's not easy to train yourself to switch between the two, but not impossible.

You're right, a double space is not required these days, and one of the reasons is the monotype/proportional font difference. There's another, which is simply fashion (not everything comes down to computers). Books used to be typeset with a large gap after the full stop (sorry, period). I'm looking at my grandfather's 1920 edition of Quiller-Couch's "The Art of Writing," for example, and it looks like not just a double space, but a double 'em' space. It's tiring to read when you are not used to it, you have to move your eyes more, I suppose.

I use a Remington, but I have no idea why the brand firearm I use dictates how I punctuate my sentences.

It's tradition. Heritage. A sense of purpose. Who are you to throw that out?

Who I am to throw that out? I didn't throw that out. I merely informed you of something that has been commonplace in publishing for more than a generation.

The XML authoring software just won't allow me to put a second space after a period.

I remember being taught in Office Practice class in high school to put two spaces at the end of sentences.

I started on a manual typewriter, moved on to the IBM Selectric and Selectric II, then eventually to the computer keyboard.

John Ross is correct. In the old days of hand-set type, at least in the United States, sentences were separated by long spaces. See, for example, the first page of this 1900 printing of Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi: http://books.google.com/books?id=qiARAAAAYAAJ&dq=mark%20twain&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q&f=false

This practice faded away in the 20th Century and is rarely seen in modern books that have been typeset to professional standards.

Cheers,
Tom

"This shouldn't be a problem with anyone under 50ish, I think."

And making problems for people over 50ish is to be of no concern?

Over 50? I'm 27 and started typing 18 years ago. I learned on a typewriter, and later on an old Apple IIe in school. I've always put two spaces between sentences, and plan to continue doing so.

I'm 35, I took typing when i was 15, and I learned two spaces even though I learned it on a word-processor. And a QWERTY keyboard, for that matter, which just goes to show how long inefficient practices can survive.

Interesting blog. I wrote the "Sentence spacing" article at Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sentence_spacing

I didn't find anything in my research that said that double spacing was "necessary" for Courier fonts. Some people might have thought that it made Courier (or other monospaced fonts) more readable. A look at the "studies" section in the article should be revealing though, I think.

I don't care about opinions, or even studies. As far as I'm concerned, two spaces help legibility, period (space space).

Maybe two spaces are unnecessary for slow readers, but as a fast reader, the extra space is useful to me. It's particularly nice when I'm reading a sentence and I know how it's going to end, so I skip ahead to the next sentence.

John,

I'm seeing the same errors in text at Wikipedia as appears in your first post.

(1) "Monotype" is a company from the late 1800s that produced typesetting equipment.  "Monotype" is not a synonym for "monospace."

(2) "With proportional fonts, the additional space after a period is unnecessary."  Proportional fonts are designed such that each character has it's own fixed width (http://www.microsoft.com/typography/developers/fdsspec/spaces.aspx).  Two proportional spaces are wider than one proportional space.  So, proportional fonts are not related to the issue at hand.

(3) "Unless you are still using an Underwood or a Remington, it’s time you broke yourself of the habit."  Translated, this asserts that typewriter conventions ended with the typewriter.  This is hyperbole.

John,

I still can't figure out what is going on here.  Why is the typography industry now avoiding using an em-space between sentences?  Do you agree with Bridget Forney's post above on August 10 that this change was done to save money?

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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