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January 14, 2011 • News

The Real Crime of Wikileaks? Double Spaces Between Sentences!

A few weeks ago I saw a discussion online in a forum about whether you should use one space or two after a period before starting a new sentence. Apparently some folks felt very strongly that one was correct and two was wrong, while others felt very strongly that two was correct and two was wrong, and still others felt very strongly that the other two groups were getting seriously worked up over nothing. But in that same thread today someone pointed out an article at Slate that takes the issue to a whole new level.

Here’s a fellow (Julian Assange) who’s been using computers since at least the mid-1980s, a guy whose globetrotting tech-wizardry has come to symbolize all that’s revolutionary about the digital age. Yet when he sits down to type, Julian Assange reverts to an antiquated habit that would not have been out of place in the secretarial pools of the 1950s: He uses two spaces after every period. Which—for the record—is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong.

Wow … “inarguably wrong”. That is pretty strong stuff … or as Monty Python might say “Pretty strong meat there from Sam Peckinpah” …

Anyway, according to Slate the whole issue is of grave concern to typographers who have had to work through the years to establish standards. The author points to another article that takes a thorough historical (and much less emotional) look at the issue.

The interesting thing – while the Slate author states that single-spacing has been a universal standard since over a century ago and held as canon by all professional typographers, and that it was only disrupted by the need for additional spaces due to monospace typewriters. In the very article he cites, James Felici says that while most typography moved to single-spacing, it was a matter of style as much as anything else, and happened gradually and not by vote of some great body of typography standards committee.

Also, given the gradual recession of the practice through the 20th century, he effectively debunks the Slate ‘typewriter connection’. While it is certainly true that due to monospacing type fonts, the need to double-space makes sense to make line endings distinct, it was also to preserve a look and feel that folks had become used to seeing.

With the move to proportional fonts in electric typesetting systems and later computers, this need went away. As Felici notes:

Interestingly, by the 1960s, electronic phototypesetting systems went as far as ignoring consecutive word spaces altogether when they appeared in text. If the system found consecutive word spaces, it regarded that as a mistake and collapsed them into a single space

But he doesn’t go so far as Slate in terms of what that means – he addresses it pragmatically:

So there’s no need, except when using monospaced faces, to double the word space after sentences. In fact, good type color and balanced spacing argue against it. But clearly, from a historical perspective, there’s no reason that such doubling should be banned, either.

But what he says makes a statement about why Farhad Manjoo of Slate is so outraged:

For the generation of typesetters who grew up during this regime, this no-nonsense interdiction may be part of the source of the notion that double spaces are not just a bad idea but are in fact verboten.

It all makes for an interesting exchange about whether or not to have two spaces after a period. Personally I really don’t care either way – I can see the arguments Manjoo makes later about the aesthetics, but if you have noted anything I have written here you will see that I have double spaced everything! When my kids asked me about it (unlike teachers in the article, my kids were taught to single space after a period), I said it was just how I was taught and I never thought about it. My wife – being a woman in the era when she was young – took all sorts of business and typing and shorthand classes, and was taught to double-space on a typewriter.

I polled the GearDiary crew and found that most had been taught to double-space, though some now used single spacing for one reason or other. Some think single looks better, others find double looks more natural … but no one was particularly passionate one way or the other.

How about you? Do use one or two spaces – and why? Do you care one way or the other? Think one is horribly wrong?

Source: Slate

4 Responses to " The Real Crime of Wikileaks? Double Spaces Between Sentences! "

  1. dbmurray says:

    In high school around the year 1982, I was taught to always space twice after each sentence when using a manual typewriter. This carried through college until I started working on my masters degree in the late 1980s. At that point, I was taught to put only one space after a sentence when using a computer.

    This should not to be confused with double spacing lines within a paragraph. That’s a bizarre convention that still prevails as a requirement for term papers.

  2. RT @GearDiarySite: The Real Crime of Wikileaks? Double Spaces Between Sentences!

  3. glitch says:

    Growing up in the 80’s I was taught to double space after periods. In the newspaper layout class I took in college they also taught me to double space after periods. I may be wrong about that as I paid little attention, I was a broadcasting major at the time. It sticks with me today because when you are typing stuff that people will read aloud it helps to have an excessively obvious gap between thoughts, points, etc…

    But I’d hardly go on a holy Crusade against the vile users of the single space. 😉

  4. Jeremy says:

    The Real Crime of Wikileaks? Double Spaces Between Sentences!