Not Just Another Grouchy Grammarian

Musings about language, books, grammar, and writing in general

Another Argument – This Time Over Punctuation

Ah. There is a vicious argument going on over at Linked In. It concerns whether to use one or two spaces after a period. The originator of the discussion, one Shereese , quotes Farhad Manjoo from Slate magazine, who says:

“Can I let you in on a secret? Typing two spaces after a period is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong.

And yet people who use two spaces are everywhere, their ugly error crossing every social boundary of class, education, and taste.”

Mr. Manjoo’s entire column on this subject can be found here. I strongly suggest reading it, as it is well-thought-into. Unlike the young woman quoting him, Mr. Manjoo looks at both sides of the argument. He notes the arbitrariness of both schools of thought, and discusses the history of spacing, as well as why typographers prefer single spacing after periods.

Like many of us, I learned in school that when typing, one places two spaces after a period. Of course, I learned to type long before word processors and computers were common in offices. I first learned on a portable manual typewriter, then (in college) upgraded to an IBM Selectric typewriter. In fact, it wasn’t until the late 1970’s that the office I was in replaced typewriters — first with word processors, then a year or so later, with computers. And when we got the computers, no one ever said anything about changing how we typed.

A year or so ago, I began hearing that it was no longer considered proper to use two spaces after a period. (And, I note, that I still have not heard about using only one space after a colon.) I have checked with a few friends who are professional proofreaders, and they have told me the following: “It is no longer necessary to leave two spaces after a period because computers are designed to do the kerning that typewriters were not.” However, I have not, until recently, heard people assert that those who use the double space are just plain wrong and ignorant.

Again, the arrogance of the young raises its head — assuming that anyone who does not do things their way is wrong, and deserves derision. The truth is that if you learned to type using the double space, it is probably ingrained in your habits. And, just like any other habit, it takes time to break it and retrain yourself to do something different. Mind, the arrogance of the old is no bargain either. It amounts to, “This is how I learned; therefore, it is written in stone that I am right.” The style manuals are not much help either. Some say that both methods are correct; some favor one or the other.

If you are a professional content provider, I would suggest checking with your clients to see which method they want you to use. You would check the client’s style manual or writers’ guidelines before submitting work, anyway.

As I have said before, language evolves — even formal, written language. And, while I do not like some of the changes, I neither make the rules nor write the style guides. I am trying to ingrain this new convention, since the reason makes sense to me, but after 45 years of using a double space after a period, it may take some time.

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