Monday, January 17, 2011

Space Mystery Solved!

 Not that kind of space. (But a sensational title, right?)

No, I'm talking about the space after the period (or ? or !) at the end of a sentence-- one space or two? 

I typed my way through endless college papers, my own and my husband's, as well as my MA thesis and I always put two spaces after the period. Just like I learned at my mother's knee (actually, just like I learned in typing class -- back in the Fifties.

So, imagine my surprise when my first manuscript came back to me with enigmatic little red marks all over it, indicating that I was taking up too much space -- that one space after the . or ? or ! was all that I was allowed.

Well, okay, then. I shook my head and tried to unlearn the two space habit of a lifetime, muttering to myself about the inscrutable ways of publishers but never asking why? 

Now the mystery is solved! I stumbled upon this article in SLATE (which I visit everyday to read DOONESBURY) and learned that it all has to do with the difference between typewriters (remember them?) and computers.

The article says  that typographers have always agreed that one space between sentences is preferable for ease of reading. But (and I quote --) 

" The problem with typewriters was that they used monospaced type—that is, every character occupied an equal amount of horizontal space. This bucked a long tradition of proportional typesetting, in which skinny characters (like I or 1) were given less space than fat ones (like W or M). Monospaced type gives you text that looks "loose" and uneven; there's a lot of white space between characters and words, so it's more difficult to spot the spaces between sentences immediately. Hence the adoption of the two-space rule—on a typewriter, an extra space after a sentence makes text easier to read. 

Here's the thing, though: Monospaced fonts went out in the 1970s. First electric typewriters and then computers began to offer people ways to create text using proportional fonts. Today nearly every font on your PC is proportional. (Courier is the one major exception.) Because we've all switched to modern fonts, adding two spaces after a period no longer enhances readability, typographers say. It diminishes it."

I think maybe you have to be a typographer to get real worked up over this. But I really liked learning the reason for the new rule.  Plus it's a funny, funny article.

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Witch of Stitches said...

Imagine that! The tidbits one picks up on blogs. I love tidbits like this, thanks Vicki!!! XO

R. Burnett Baker said...

Don't care what anyone says: Two spaces after periods. Period.

Two spaces after colons. Period.

It's what I was taught. It's what I'm going to do.



Mama-Bug said...

Two spaces after the period is so firmly ingrained in my brain that my fingers do it automatically on the keyboard. Too many years of business classes I guess! It might take this old dog awhile to learn that new trick!

Victoria said...

I love learning about things like this...but, I've been putting two spaces between sentences for too long to change now. Plus, I like the look of two spaces!

I've been reading back over your blog since I've been absent for so long from the blogging world. Vicki, you sure do have some gorgeous photos! Interesting posts, too.

Martin H. said...

An interesting article. Having never received any formal guidance on the correct way to space between sentences, I suppose I'm a 'single-spacer' by default. Now, I'm left wondering how exciting it might be, to have dinner with a typographer.

PattyF said...

Very interesting. My girls and I were just having this discussion the other day, as a matter of fact, because a friend of mine, who'd submitted a short story for an anthology, was told the same thing: One space, not two. Sigh. It's going to be very difficult to "unlearn" something that's automatic. Thanks for sharing!

Brian Miller said...

after the thumping of two as a took a bit for me to get used to one...

Brenda said...

Looks like you got hit by a spammer, hope you catch it and delete it soon!

Two spaces after a sentence just looks weird and automatically "dates" the author. I grew up in the 2 space era, but about 10 years ago my company sent the whole staff to a Fred Pryor Grammar and Punctuation seminar. They told us then that the two space method was outdated, and why. I hated it, and was certain I'd never be able to change. In fact, I declared that I would not change. My fingers just type two spaces automatically. Hmmph! So there!

But I'm here to say that not only CAN old dogs learn new tricks, but eventually it will begin to drive you crazy when you encounter work by two space people. You will feel a compulsive desire to "fix" the entire article or manuscript. It's particularly tricky when it's your boss, who prides himself on being a good writer. Tell him? Or don't tell him? I think I eventually told him, but for a long time I just went through his entire newsletter articles, deleting all the extra spaces.

Vicki Lane said...

This is interesting --- the different reactions you all have. I tried to adjust because I hated seeing all those red marks on my manuscripts. If one is writing for one's own pleasure (and not that of typographers,) then it doesn't much matter -- unless one doesn't want to appear dated. I'm not sure I actually notice -- though I may from now on.

Patty's comment about submitting work, however might be something to heed.

Carol said...

What! You've shaken my world this morning. Now I'm worried that I did not receive enigmatic red marks on my manuscripts. Should I forward this to the copy editors? I'm in a dither.

Darla said...

This was great - thanks! I ran into something similar with The Spaces; having been a legal secretary for decades, suddenly I found myself being told to only use the one space! LOL Truly ... delightful sharing.

Kaye Barley said...

oh Laws. All these new rules coming out this week. I'm too old and set in my ways, I'm afraid, to change how many spaces after a period. Just like I'm too old and set in my ways to change from a Sagittarius to a Scorpio!! I spent a lot of years reading Linda Goodman's Sun Signs and I'm just gonna stick with what I know. (Period).
thanks for another terrific post, Vicki!

Vicki Lane said...

Carol, copy editors being what they are, I'm sure they're on the case. There's probably some spiffy program to go through an entire ms. and zap those extra spaces.

Yeah, Kaye, the change in horoscope is one I'm ignoring. Or maybe I'll refer to myself as an old-style Pisces.

A friend of mine said on FB -- "By gog, I'm not changing -- I'm a SCORPIO!!! Just ask anyone who's ever pissed me off!"

Deanna said...

Breaking the two space habit is so hard to do. I do a lot of... ha, I just noticed I put two spaces after do. Let me try this again. I do a lot of journaling and read a long time ago that one space is better than two. Once I had two spaces pounded into my fingers by Mrs. Buchanan (Buck for short, if she was not in earshot)it has proven to be nothing short of impossible to switch the habit.

Here is a little tip I came up with so that I could continue my space, space. I type the way I learned and then do a find for .space space and then do a replace all with .space

Have a wonderful day and stay warm!

Vicki Lane said...

Of course! Thanks, Deanna.

bo parker said...

You bring up a reminder from my newspaper days. While typewriters were monospaced, the machine in the press room that set headlines used proportional type.
Therefore, in order for the headline in final form to appear as needed, we had to learn to "count" the headlines we typed. Every letter of the alphabet, Uc and Lc, punctuation marks, and each space had a value: one half, one, one and a half, or two.
The total "count" needed for each line could be different, depending on the font, its size, and column width selected by the editor doing the page layout.
Not only did we have to be creative in a pressure-filled environment, we had to know the "count" for a large variety of headlines. There wasn't time to look each one up in a style book.
The one thing we did not have to worry about was one or two spaces after a period when writing the story. That was handled by the Linotype machine operator.
The "good old days?" Yeah, right. I'm very happy that all I have to remember these days is one space after a period.

Reader Wil said...

Well, I learnt something new about spaces. I never thought about it, but now I think about it: I always take one space after a period, a comma, an exclamation mark or any other mark.But it doesn't mean I am always correct. I simply do something which I believe is right.

Another thing:
I often say learnt instead of learned. Is this oldfashioned?

Kristen Haskell said...

Wow that is interesting. I have almost always typed two spaces. I am really going to try to adjust that. I realized while typing this comment that I was actually only typing one space. So here I was thinking I was typing two when in reality I was typing one and now I really do not have to adjust. I think I just made the adjustment automatically when two spaces looked like too much space.

Bouncin' Barb said...

Vicki, I'm old school much like yourself. Two spaces after a period. Now if that is incorrect that's fine. I can try to change but can someone get Mrs. Mittleman's voice out of my head as she walked through the room repeating 1 after a comma, 2 after a period. 1after a comma,2 after a period. haha

parisbreakfasts said...

Who knew?
I should have and didn't
merci carolg

Vagabonde said...

I did not know about spacing. That explains why when I write a post in a document and place my two spaces after any full stop when I copy it on Google it becomes one space. Now I won’t bother to place two spaces, but I think my fingers will do it anyway because of habit.

Tess Kincaid said...

Oh, gosh. I always leave two spaces. I don't think I can change. I'm too much of an old dog.

Anonymous said...

Two spaces. But I can get over it. How about a comma in a compound sentence such as:

"Mrs. Smith went to visit her daughter at the houseboat, and Mr. Jones saw her there right before the murder."

I say comma, my 8th grade English teacher insisted comma, but my company style manual says no comma. Any thoughts?

Lynne in GA

Marilyn said...

I have had a few blog free days due to the busy-ness of life and have enjoyed coming back to read about one space or two ;-)
I had never heard of two spaces...

Louise said...

I read that article, too. Made me get all humphy! That new rule might just explain why my eyes tend to cross after I have been reading stuff for too long.

I'll be a curmudgeon, thank you very much, and stay with my two spaces.

Paul C said...

So true about the importance of typography and fonts these days. It conveys a lot about intended messages and style.

Vicki Lane said...

Great story, Bo! Computers have sure simplified that particular problem.

Reader Wil - I think that I sometimes say learnt -- I suppose it's a little old-fashioned but not incorrect. I know I say burnt instead of burned. I like the olderr usages.

I can hear Mrs. Mittleman now, Barb...

It's always hard to change these habits -- but I think it's probably good to make the effort. Learning new stuff, according to some, wards off the dread Alzheimers.

Helen, I don't use a comma in a compound sentence with a conjunction. I think I used to; ELEMENTS OF STYLE says you should but I think my publishers guidelines say no -- unless it's needed for clarity.

This space thing is not something I notice in others' writing -- though I may from now on. ;-)

Merisi said...

I bookmarked that article for tonight's bedside reading, thank you! :-)

I had never heard of a two spaces rule.
Very interesting to know.

I learned only recently why fonts and spacing look somewhat better on my Mac. Apple apparently uses professional fonts - they are part of the operating system - each Mac comes already loaded with those fantastic fonts which otherwise cost a fortune. Who'd have thunk? ;-)

Merisi said...

I got myself a new camera body, a 300S
(and found out that you are a lucky duck with your D90, way better than my old D80).

Tammy said...

Hmmm... I have wondered why it was suddenly 'okay' to have only one space after a period. So far I still put the two spaces--force of habit. Thanks for the interesting article!

Margaret Bednar said...

I tried to do it, but it is just way to engrained in me. I guess there are some things you can't teach an old dog... :)

Vicki Lane said...

I wonder if the two space rule was peculiar to typing classes in the USA?

Merisi -- congratulations on the new camera body! I'm still loving my D90, thanks to you.

Merisi said...

your D90 is still a winner, definitely one of the very best consumer cameras out there, in fact, I was considering simply upgrading from my old D80 to the D90 (which actually outshines my new D300s in some regards).

chiccoreal said...

Dear Vicki: Yes I left my last typewriter balls and all! The old Smith Corona with the Electra complex was always a ribbon-disaster. I think I could claim it caused my font insanity. However, typewriters and computers for that matter, are just "instruments" for the manufacturing of thought. Thought which should mean something to someone somewhere, hopefully! I love you pics etc. How much talent in one person! Wowsa! Love it!

Markin said...

Ahem. I'm a two-space typist, and will remain one, thank you.

The problem seems to be that monospace font is no longer "in" -- but I find proportional font much harder to read. On the computer, my default font in everything is Courier. (This comment may come out as Trebuchet MS, but it's Courier as I type it into the comment box ... ) If I'm faced with a long article, I'll copy it and paste it into a text document with a Courier default.

If I absolutely must submit something in something like [shudder] Times New Roman, I'll change the font for the submitted or printed-out copy only; like Deanna, I'll do a global ".(sp)(sp)" replacement -- if I remember to do it. And that's the beauty of word processing: I can have the text in a font I can read, and you can have it in a font you find aesthetically pleasing (not to mention cheaper to print).

Just don't tell me two spaces are wrong -- they're not.

Stubbornly yours [wry grin],

Vicki Lane said...

Mario, such passion! It's wonderful we can each choose our fonts -- I'm fine with Time Roman for my manuscripts but choose Georgia for my blog.