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Confessions of a Former Double-Spacer

I remember learning to type in high school and having the rule of two spaces after a period ingrained in my head. It became part of the rhythm of typing. Period space space. Period space space. I actually can’t pinpoint when I stopped typing two spaces after the last punctuation mark in a sentence. It was likely when most of my work started being done on a computer keyboard in the early nineties. Period. Space. Period. Space. It doesn’t have the same cadence.

I was comfortable with the double-space and it had a long, rich history. As writer and anti double-spacer John McDermott shared in an April 2017 article for MEL Magazine, “…For hundreds of years, typesetters, once the arbiters of typographical standards, couldn’t agree on one or two spaces after a period. The first printing of the Declaration of Independence adheres to the two-space rule, while many Bibles from the era use only one, for example. Other printing presses changed the number of spaces they put between words and sentences within the same piece of text, meanwhile. Typesetters in Europe eventually agreed to use one space sometime near the early 20th century, with American typesetters following suit shortly thereafter, according to James Felici, author of The Complete Manual of Typography.”

McDermott’s history lesson continues with the advent of the typewriter. He says a “design quirk” was the cause of typographical rules to change again and the two-space rule became the industry standard. “Typewriters used what’s called monospace typing, in which every letter on the keyboard had the same amount of horizontal space. The key for a lowercase “i” was just as wide as one for a capital “W,” creating an awkward amount of white space between letters, and making it hard to discern where certain words started or ended. To avoid confusion, typists would put an extra space at the end of a sentence.”

In the 1970s, “monospace typing fell by the wayside,” McDermott says, as electronic typewriters were able to write in “proportional fonts.” But the two-space rule persisted. It was so rooted in the public consciousness that people thought it was the grammatically correct way to type.

“A generation of educators who grew up with typewriters told us the two-space rule was sacrosanct, and we just haven’t been able to break the habit. That’s understandable. Habits are hard to break, especially muscle memory ones like keyboarding,” writes McDermott – and I whole-heartedly agree.

Now, as a recovering double-spacer, I edit documents (most of which written by clients who were similarly schooled in the double-space rule) and become quickly agitated by the need to delete those superfluous spaces.

Today’s communication devices have proportional fonts, which means that period space space isn’t necessary anymore. The rules have changed. Further, designers and typesetters agree that using two spaces creates too much white space in a document and, as McDermott says, “it makes a person look old and out of touch.” Ouch.

So, free yourself of the double-space. Give your thumbs a break. Ease up on the space bar. Embrace the staccato of period space. As Grammar Girl puts it, “It’s a one-space world.” Period.


This post courtesy of Account Manager, Jennifer Kardian

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