Love Affair with Two Spaces
Lisa A. Svara
Did you know, in this modern era of communication, you are only supposed to type one space after the period at the end of a sentence? Perhaps, like me, youíd never heard such a thing before and are tempted to scream, "Heresy!!" Or perhaps youíre one of the cool kids who was already privy to the disdain that typographers seem to hold for anyone still clinging to the outdated notion of an extra space before a new sentence.
According to these typographers (the people who study and design the type and fonts we use every day) and most publishing style guides, the single space is the way to go, and double spaces at the end of a sentence are garish and gauche. An in-depth study (i.e. a quick survey of my Facebook friends) shows that the majority of the 14 people who provided input are still firmly entrenched in the two-space camp. Of the six that didnít 100% devote themselves to the double-space school of thought:
* One was very clear: "One space. Always." (he was also the youngest of the respondents);
* One friend said he was taught two-space but rarely typed that way now;
* One friend varied his use on some seemingly arbitrary conditions (using single space if he was justifying the paragraphs, but two spaces if he wasnít, for example);
* One thought two was correct but likes how one space looks better;
* One has shifted her use to one-space based on the guidance of someone who paid her to do some writing (money talks!); and
* One sort of practiced the two interchangeably based on what she felt looked better.
Itís reassuring to learn Iím not alone in joining the one-space bandwagon. I feared at first that the one-space train had long left the station, and I might have been left behind on the platform of outmoded word processing practices.
I think Iím coming to terms with typing just one space after a period. All these folks say itís only supposed to be one space. But, like many of my friends who responded to my informal poll on Facebook, I learned to type in the waning era of typewriters so that rule was drilled into me. Two spaces after a sentence. TWO SPACES OR FACE THE WRATH OF THE KEYBOARDING TEACHERíS RED PEN. My thumbs - but nearly always my right thumb based on the glossy spot on the space bar worn into every keyboard Iíve ever used - would want, nay, NEED to insert two spaces after the final punctuation of a sentence. It still takes conscious thought to stop at just one. Or, Iím forced to stop my train of thought and hit the backspace key. Or I forget and just leave two spaces. My muscles have memories that my conscious brain is having a hard time making them forget.
Even in this piece about this very specific issue, you could very well find Iím not very consistent. It still doesnít feel right to my fingers, and it still doesnít look completely right to my eyes. Others may criticize and mock those giant holes in a piece of writing as if the writer were the technophobic old man holding up the line at the ATM because he canít figure out how to deposit a check. But that aesthetic (or lack thereof) just doesnít bother me. I use only one space and to me it seems the sentences are just in too much of a rush to get onto the page. The pace of the writing feels like itís matching the pace of our world: eager, impatient, instant, too afraid of being lost or forgotten.
Thereís something so modern about the one-space rule. And not modern in a cool Jetsons sort of way, but modern in the way that makes older people wax nostalgic for the way things used to be. Experts will tell you that before typewriters, in the days of the printing press, each letter was a different width, and were squeezed together just-so on the press. Then the typewriter came along, and due to its limited technology, all the letters were monospaced. Thus, a skinny letter like an ďiĒ or ďlĒ taking up just as much space as a big, fat ďMĒ or ďWĒ. These thin characters would have lots of extra space before and after them, and the page would be riddled with all these superfluous gaps. The two-space rule was thus necessary to make our brains realize, ďhey, new sentence!Ē Now that the typewriter is a technological dinosaur and we are back to variably-spaced fonts, that extra space at the end of the sentence has now become the superfluous gap. Itís unfortunate, really, that I and so many of my cohorts learned to type in an era that was essentially just an anomalous blip in the history of the printed word. We are stuck in such an odd mindset, nostalgically grasping onto something that is really quite illogical.
The thing about all this, though, is that Iím generally an easy adopter of new ways of doing things. Online bill pay? Awesome. New traffic patterns after road construction? Super! Reusable grocery bags? BRING IT. Iím not very resistant to change. I feel an active, visceral disdain for people who write checks at the supermarket.
But this? This one little space? Maybe itís because my thumb wants to press that space bar twice, NEEDS to press that space bar twice. Maybe itís because I still have to keep my brain actively engaged to prevent that double space and it feels like so much work, or that Iím still in the throes of denial that I am going to adopt this newfangled way of typing and eventually embrace it. It might also be the smug, superior, blustering way in which proponents of the single space have furthered their argument, trying to sway the masses with ridicule rather than logic. Being chided into the usage by a pedant isnít very persuasive (it makes me want to stomp my feet and stick my fingers in my ears and yell "LA LA LA I WONíT DO IT YOU CANíT MAKE ME!").
Thereís another perfectly legitimate reason to only use one space instead of two, and honestly, itís the only thing persuading me to adopt the single space standard. (Beyond, of course, fearing the shame projected by ridiculers, and the perception that Iím a curmudgeonly old person.) Itís a reason that I personally find very appealing: saving trees. See, if you only use one space, sentences can wrap sooner, and you might not need to use so much paper. Thatís irrelevant in a blog post or email, but when youíre printing up ten thousand copies of a book, for example, if you can eliminate just one page in a 500-page book by having one space after each sentence instead of two, then youíve saved ten thousand pieces of paper. It doesnít take much persuading to convince me that a single space can have a positive environmental impact. I can get behind the logical reasons for the practice, and I do respect the endorsement of people who certainly know better than me.
Still, thereís something about those two spaces that makes me want to wear black socks with sandals and buy a Buick and scream at kids to get off my lawn. But, I wonít. Sometimes change is hard, and uncomfortable to embrace. However, I am reluctantly getting on the single space bandwagon and, dammit, Iíll remember there are poor children in China who are starving for any typed words at all.
Lee, Tom. "everyone has a right to their beliefs." Manifest Density. N.p., 14 Jan 2011. Web. Web. 24 Feb. 2013. http://www.manifestdensity.net/2011/01/14/everyone-has-a-right-to-their-beliefs/.
Manjoo, Farhad. "Space Invaders: Why you should never, ever use two spaces after a period." Slate.com. Slate, 13 Jan 2013. Web. 24 Feb 2013. http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2011/01/space_invaders.single.html.