My wife is bu-huh-sting my ballses over a style thing. I’m not talking about my sartorial skills, which are mad, bad, and dangerous to know. I rock the streets of Brooklyn in an oversized hoodie, un-ironic tennis shoes, and my faded wide-leg, full-cut, husky jeans practically EVERY DAY, so believe me, it ain’t my fashion sense she’s slamming. No.
It’s my tendency to type two spaces after a period, or “full-stop” for my Brizzits in the hizzouse. I have to admit, I learned keystroke-writing back when typewriters existed. (For the children, that’s a device a lot like a laptop, only there was no screen and you had to put paper into it one sheet at a time.)
Obsolete, but gorgeous.
Two spaces between the end of one sentence and the start of the next was simply the rule. It’s what we were taught to do, it’s what we did, and it’s what kept our writing civilized and separate from the illegible, illiterate twaddle coming out of the animal kingdom. (For the children, that’s texting.)
Turns out, though, it’s wrong.
Farhad Manjoo (love it, don’t ever change it) over at Slate posted a big exposé on the topic, and frankly, I don’t like his tone. For example:
What galls me about two-spacers isn’t just their numbers. It’s their certainty that they’re right. Over Thanksgiving dinner last year, I asked people what they considered to be the “correct” number of spaces between sentences. The diners included doctors, computer programmers, and other highly accomplished professionals. Everyone—everyone!—said it was proper to use two spaces. Some people admitted to slipping sometimes and using a single space—but when writing something formal, they were always careful to use two. Others explained they mostly used a single space but felt guilty for violating the two-space “rule.” Still others said they used two spaces all the time, and they were thrilled to be so proper. When I pointed out that they were doing it wrong—that, in fact, the correct way to end a sentence is with a period followed by a single, proud, beautiful space—the table balked. “Who says two spaces is wrong?” they wanted to know.
He goes on to cite typographers (“Every modern typographer agrees on the one-space rule.”) and style guides (“Every major style guide—including the Modern Language Association Style Manual and the Chicago Manual of Style—prescribes a single space after a period.”) as support for his argument. The problem for me, though, is that his defense is selective.
James Felici, one of the “every” modern typographers Manjoo references, is infinitely more gracious and diplomatic in his assessment of the issue; and his article is fascinating reading, full of nuance and detail. It’s hardly the sledgehammer absolute Manjoo suggests.
Similarly, the MLA specifically says:
Because it is increasingly common for papers and manuscripts to be prepared with a single space after all punctuation marks, this spacing is shown in the examples in the MLA Handbookand the MLA Style Manual. As a practical matter, however, there is nothing wrong with using two spaces after concluding punctuation marks unless an instructor or editor requests that you do otherwise. (My emphasis.)
CMOS is a bit less kind, but still acknowledges that the “rule” is often a matter of “preference”:
The view at CMOS is that there is no reason for two spaces after a period in published work. Some people, however—my colleagues included—prefer it, relegating this preference to their personal correspondence and notes.
The CMOS #1 reason against using two spaces is that “it is inefficient, requiring an extra keystroke for every sentence.” Personally, I type these two spaces so reflexively that the exact opposite is true: to adhere to the single-space rule, I have to spend so much more time going through my work and correcting what I’ve already done. (I realize and fully concede that such review can be considered proofreading.)
Manjoo also cites the publications manual of American Psychological Association, bending their position to support his claim. Their exact wording is as follows:
The new edition of the Publication Manual recommends that authors include two spaces after each period in draft manuscripts. For many readers, especially those tasked with reading stacks of term papers or reviewing manuscripts submitted for publication, this new recommendation will help ease their reading by breaking up the text into manageable, more easily recognizable chunks.
Although the usual convention for published works remains one space after each period, and indeed the decision regarding whether to include one space or two rests, in the end, with the publication designer, APA thinks the added space makes sense for draft manuscripts in light of those manuscript readers who might benefit from a brief but refreshing pause.
In the comments section of that same article, author Sarah Wiederkehr links to the Wikipedia page on the topic, which (again, diplomatically) acknowledges the validity of positions on both sides of the aisle.
It seems that throughout this argument, as you can see in the quotes I’ve included above, the energy on the double-space side is genteel, civil, showing concern for the reader, whereas the timbre of the single-space argument is aggressive, hectoring, self-righteous, and accusatory. To wit:
“Forget about tolerating differences of opinion: typographically speaking, typing two spaces before the start of a new sentence is absolutely, unequivocally wrong,” Ilene Strizver, who runs a typographic consulting firm The Type Studio, once wrote. “When I see two spaces I shake my head and I go, Aye yay yay,” she told me. “I talk about ‘type crimes’ often, and in terms of what you can do wrong, this one deserves life imprisonment. It’s a pure sign of amateur typography.”
I checked out Ms. Strizver’s website. It’s nice, but I would argue that using at least seven different fonts in a single page is also a sign of amateur typography. (Hugs, Ilene!)
To me, single-spacing looks jumbled and cluttered. I like the breathing room that double-spacing provides. Granted, most of the writing I do is playwriting, and I do it in old-school manuscript format using Courier font. (Well, more precisely, Courier New.)
And why do I use it? Because it looks like a typewriter. Womp-womp.
Since that font is a monospace font, even on the computer, two spaces helps immeasurably with the clarity and readability of my work. But I also email, and now I’m blogging, and the whole thing has me thinking. Is my double-spacing holding me back? Do prospective employers see it in my cover letter and give me a pass because of it? My wife has already pointed out that my use of it in my blog posts occasionally creates unintentional indents on the left margin, which looks stupid. (Resizing the page seems to correct the problem, but it also doesn’t magically create the problem on single-spaced type.)
Where do you stand? One space, or two?
UPDATE: My virtual brother-in-law Brian covered similar territory over on unqualified.org. It’s worth a read. He’s smart, he’s literate, and he loathes Farhad Manjoo.
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