Tips from the Editor – Double Space After a Period: Who Knew Nothing Could Be So Contentious!

Posted on Updated on

By Kelly Laycock

space1a“If you type two spaces after a period, you’re doing it wrong.”1

This may seem inflammatory to some, and for some strange reason, this issue brings out the worst in people. Forget Liberal or Conservative, are you a Single-Spacer or a Double-Spacer?

Now, I happen to be an adamant Single-Spacer, and I’m always amazed at how many people continue to use the double-space (or em-space) after every period. It seems like an awfully inefficient use of time and energy in our “Time is Money” world, not to mention a waste of space! But I don’t dare mention it to my authors and contributors, because I might be setting myself up for a full-blown attack: “That’s what I was taught, so it must be right” or “It just looks better with two spaces.” And we all know that you can’t argue with belief.    

So I just search-and-replace them quietly.

The Chicago Manual of Style, widely regarded as the standard for publishing and communications, gives this example in their Q&A section:2

Q. About two spaces after a period. As a US Marine, I know that what’s right is right and you are wrong. I declare it once and for all aesthetically more appealing to have two spaces after a period. If you refuse to alter your bullheadedness, I will petition the commandant to allow me to take one Marine detail to conquer your organization and impose my rule. Thou shalt place two spaces after a period. Period. Semper Fidelis.

A. As a US Marine, you’re probably an expert at something, but I’m afraid it’s not this. Status quo.

How can you argue with CMS? But if you need more convincing, let’s look at a couple of textbooks on typesetting and typography, the guidebooks for today’s professional designers. In The Elements of Typographic Style, Robert Bringhurst outlines the history of the double-space:

“In the nineteenth century, which was a dark and inflationary age in typography and type design, many compositors were encouraged to stuff extra space between sentences. Generations of twentieth-century typists were then taught to do the same, by hitting the spacebar twice after every period. Your typing as well as your typesetting will benefit from unlearning this quaint Victorian habit.”3

But even Mr. Bringhurst seems to be adding more emotion than argument, with his “dark and inflationary age”, “encouraged to stuff extra space” and “quaint Victorian habit.” Perhaps rather than shaming you out of your bad habits, I should try to convince you with reason. James Felici does a better job of this in The Complete Manual of Typography:

“The use of wide spaces after sentences (ems or even wider) goes back to at least the mid-eighteenth century, a hundred years before the typewriter was invented….As a style, this died out in the twentieth century, with its last vestiges appearing in the 1940s, decades before the rise of computerized typography. It remained a custom on the typewriter, though, because double spaces are proportionally more appropriate for the airy monospaced faces standard on those machines….Proportionally spaced fonts, though, contain word spaces specifically designed to play the sentence-separating role perfectly. Because of this, the double word space at the end of a sentence creates an obvious hole in the line….While this may once have been a prevalent style in publishing, it’s out of fashion today, so when it does appear, it looks like a mistake.”4

And this is my argument exactly. It looks like a mistake! What if you, the author, have failed to place two spaces after every period? Then some of your sentences have two spaces and some have one, and the whole piece of writing looks inconsistent. Or worse, the extra spaces add strange line breaks or rivers throughout a page. Talk about a typesetter’s recurring nightmare. The only way to ensure consistency is to take ALL double spaces out. And as a copyeditor, consistency will always be my number one concern.

If my arguments and reputable sources have not convinced you, perhaps you are at least coming to understand why this style is changing. Dave Bricker from the theworldsgreatestbook.com, whose article I enjoyed very much, was once on the Double-Spacer side of the argument but has recently changed sides. He has a soft spot for you die-hards, and had the following to say:

“Your typesetter will remove double-spaces from your manuscript; that’s a simple fact. Though writers are encouraged to unlearn the double-space typing habit, they may be heartened to learn that intellectual arguments against the old style are mostly contrived. At worst, the wide space after a period is a victim of fashion.”5

I encourage you to check out Mr. Bricker’s very interesting article, which has many examples of this and other typographical styles as they change through historical documents of the past three centuries. Fascinating!

 

____________________________________________________-

[1] Manjoo, Farhad. “Space Invaders” Slate Magazine (12 Jan 2011) <http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2011/01/space_invaders.html>

[2] The Chicago Manual of Style Online, Q&A. “One Space or Two” (Viewed 24 Apr 2014) http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/qanda/data/faq/topics/OneSpaceorTwo.html

[3] Bringhurst, Robert. The Elements of Typographic Style, Version 3.2 (Vancouver: Hartley & Marks, 2008) at 28.

[4] Felici, James. The Complete Manual of Typography, 2nd ed (Berkeley: Adobe Press, 2012) at 84.

[5] Bricker, Dave. “How Many Spaces After a Period? Ending the Debate” (27 Mar 2013) <http://theworldsgreatestbook.com>

9 thoughts on “Tips from the Editor – Double Space After a Period: Who Knew Nothing Could Be So Contentious!

    rangerquiet said:
    September 27, 2018 at 3:52 am

    “So I just search-and-replace them quietly”.

    You monster 😉

    Like

    Jho said:
    May 1, 2014 at 9:57 am

    Kelly, thank you so much for taking the time to write your posts. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your posts, and find myself learning more than I want to about things I’ve tried very hard to forget (specifically the that vs which debate). Keep up the good work. Now, try to find-and-replace these double-spacers…

    Like

    rechemck said:
    April 30, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    I, too, am an adamant single-spacer. The subject really does bring out the worst in people! I clearly recall a very heated argument I had with a colleague over spacing after a period. We were eventually reduced to name-calling because, honestly, there is no “right” answer.

    Like

    Archaic-retro said:
    April 30, 2014 at 11:15 am

    When using a mechanical typewriter, the double space would trigger a line break if there was only room for one character left on the line. A tradition founded in response to an issue continues long after the issue has lost relevance.

    Like

    lsslib responded:
    April 30, 2014 at 10:38 am

    I learnt to double space after a period in school. In recent years I work with HTML more than word processing and HTML collapses the extra space unless a non-breaking space is explicitly inserted. This helps me to adopt the single space practice with less resistance. I do admit that I am guilty of falling back to double spacing the period if I type too fast. Hitting the space bar twice seems to come without conscious effort. This article presents an interesting argument for “the other side” – http://www.heracliteanriver.com/?p=324

    Like

    librarycanuck said:
    April 30, 2014 at 10:22 am

    Technology blogger Tom Lee suggests that typographers are,

    “drunk on the awesome power of their proportional fonts, and sure of the cosmic import of the minuscule kerning decisions that it is their lonely duty to make. Of course they don’t want lowly typists exercising their opinions about letter spacing. Those people aren’t qualified to have opinions!”

    He further suggests,

    “Sentences deserve to be clearly delineated, but because of the complications of quotation, ellipses, interrogatives and exclamations (among others), there is no reliable punctuation that can be counted on as a terminator for sentences. Single spaces are already spoken for: they separate words. The double space is an elegant and subtle solution.”

    http://www.manifestdensity.net/2011/01/14/everyone-has-a-right-to-their-beliefs/

    Liked by 1 person

    srlewis said:
    April 30, 2014 at 9:55 am

    One spacers to the end!

    Like

    librarycanuck said:
    April 30, 2014 at 9:44 am

    The MLA (Modern Language Association) explains:

    http://www.mla.org/style/style_faq/mlastyle_spaces
    “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 Handbook and 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.”

    Like

    ken11fox said:
    April 30, 2014 at 9:38 am

    A battle for the ages. Much blood will be spilled between single-spacing Greeks and double-spacing Trojans before the balance of the world is restored. Mighty heroes will rise and fall, great territories will be gained, and lost, kings will be crowned, fallen comrades mourned, empires will crumble. But alas, the copyeditor’s silent weapon of mass destruction, the “find-and-replace” feature, is their last-strike advantage, is the doom of the double-space. All is lost and the field is littered with black bones.

    Like

Tell us what you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s