One space between each sentence, they said.  Science just proved them wrong.

The typography in this article is [puts on sunglasses] on point.

In the beginning, the rules of the space bar were simple.  Two spaces after each period.  Every time.  Easy.

But then, at the end of the 20th century, the typewriter gave way to the word processor, and the computer, and modern variable-width fonts.  And the world divided.

Some insisted on keeping the two-space rule.  They couldn't get used to seeing just one space after a period.  It simply looked wrong.

Some said this was blasphemy. The designers of modern fonts had built the perfect amount of spacing, they said.

And when you really get right down to it, aren't we being pretty closed-minded to accept the false dichotomy of "one space" versus "two space", when here in this bright future we have such a glorious manifold panoply of spacing possibilities?

  • SPACE -- '󠀠 ' -- sometimes considered a control code
  • NO-BREAK SPACE -- '󠀠 ' -- commonly abbreviated as NBSP
  • OGHAM SPACE MARK -- ' ' -- glyph is blank in "stemless" style fonts
  • EN QUAD -- ' '
  • EM QUAD -- ' ' -- mutton quad
  • EN SPACE -- ' ' -- nut; half an em
  • EM SPACE -- ' ' -- mutton; nominally, a space equal to the type size in points;may scale by the condensation factor of a font
  • THREE-PER-EM SPACE -- ' ' -- thick space
  • FOUR-PER-EM SPACE -- ' ' -- mid space
  • SIX-PER-EM SPACE -- ' ' -- in computer typography sometimes equated to thin space
  • FIGURE SPACE -- ' ' -- space equal to tabular width of a font; this is equivalent to the digit width of fonts with fixed-width digits
  • PUNCTUATION SPACE -- ' ' -- space equal to narrow punctuation of a font
  • THIN SPACE -- ' ' -- a fifth of an em (or sometimes a sixth)
  • HAIR SPACE -- ' ' -- thinner than a thin space; in traditional typography, the thinnest space available
  • ZERO WIDTH SPACE -- '' -- commonly abbreviated ZWSP; this character is intended for invisible word separation and for line break control; it has no width, but its presence between two characters does not prevent increased letter spacing in justification
  • NARROW NO-BREAK SPACE -- ' ' -- commonly abbreviated NNBSP; a narrow form of a no-break space, typically the width of a thin space or a mid space
  • MEDIUM MATHEMATICAL SPACE -- ' ' -- abbreviated MMSP; four-eighteenths of an em
  • BLANK SYMBOL -- '␢' -- graphic for space
  • OPEN BOX -- '␣' -- graphic for space
  • IDEOGRAPHIC HALF FILL SPACE -- '〿' -- visual indicator of a screen space for half of an ideograph
  • ZERO WIDTH NO-BREAK SPACE -- '' -- BOM, ZWNBSP; may be used to detect byte order by contrast with the noncharacter code point U+FFFE; use as an indication of non-breaking is deprecated; see WORD JOINER instead
  • TAG SPACE -- '󠀠'

Oh My Genitals.

I always type two spaces, though HTML hides that. It's what they taught me when I was pressing my Cuneiform reeds into the clay, and the habit was reinforced by the justification idiosyncrasy that M-j fill-paragraph-or-region does not break lines at a single space following a period so that mid-sentence abbreviations are never wrapped from the following word. Which is another thing that HTML hides.

But then, for decades I used to type double-quotes ``like this'' in English text because ASCII doesn't contain ““” and “””. I eventually gave up on that, but by that time I had developed such an abiding hatred of "smart" quotes that now I just use straight-up-and-down ASCII double quotes for everything.

Also, punctuation goes inside the quotation marks only if the punctuation is part of the thing being quoted, because that's proper scoping, and I'll die on that hill.


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25 Responses:

  1. Nick Lamb says:

    Scoping punctuation for quotations is preferred in British English, it took a while for me to realise Americans actually had a crazy style rule they were obeying rather than just not knowing what a quotation is.

    • Thanks Nick, that's new to me. I grew up and live in the US and I thought I must have heard the grammar teacher wrong when she mentioned the rule in class. I continue to scope punctuation as one would in code to this day.

  2. J. Peterson says:

    WordPress is killing my two space after period habit. If the line happens to break on the end of the sentence, the extra space indents the following line (which is just wrong, but I don't have the inclination to track down the plug-in to avoid the issue).

  3. I converted from Two Spaces to One Space just a few months ago. Except for one antique system with a version of fmt that insists on two spaces. I suppose I could wrap it in a script...

  4. joe says:

    geez i was certain that OMG link was going to go to a youtube of suburban lawns

  5. "Most notably, the test subjects read paragraphs in Courier New, a fixed-width font similar to the old typewriters, and rarely used on modern computers.

    Johnson, one of the authors, told Douglas that the fixed-width font was standard for eye-tracking tests, and the benefits of two-spacing should carry over to any modern font."

    As my housemate said, "You proved that the thing we already knew about typewriters is still true about typewriters."

    • __ghost__0_0__ says:

      I am so online mad at the glaringly flawed methodology of this study. The argument against double spacing is not, "actually, we realized spaces should be the exact same width as a letter after all!" Rather it's "computerized typesetting systems have the ability to insert well-considered context-appropriate whitespace without having to slap the mammy twice." (I know, I know, slapping it is fun, though.)

  6. Editer says:

    I'll die on that hill.


  7. YHVH says:

    I'm a janitor

  8. Alex Rayner says:

    I hate the english language. Soy cambiando hablar espanol.Paleas mi, perra.

  9. Editer says:

    I also love this at the end of the WaPo article: "Note: An earlier version of this story published incorrectly because, seriously, putting two spaces in the headline broke the web code."

  10. cthulhu says:

    You had cuneiform reeds and wet clay? I had a chisel and a least I didn’t have to bake the clay dry though.

  11. ennui says:

    one space bad. two spaces good.

  12. Dennis says:

    I also go with two spaces, because that’s what I was taught. Along with no s after the apostrophe in a possessive noun. I’ll die on that hill because it personally affects me. What is wrong with people these days tossing an extra S on like it’s okay?

  13. 205guy says:

    We have lots of people dying on hills because English has no standardization body. Of course, languages with standards have even more people up in arms because they don't agree with the geezers who are inevitably on the board.

  14. Boris Magocsi says:

    In German, double quotes work „like this".

  15. MattyJ says:

    I'm old enough to have learned to set type on a Compugraphics EditWriter. If I recall it only had a regular space, plus an em and en space, and that was it. Kids and their empty spaces. In my day, leading used actual lead!

  16. David Konerding says:

    "science" "proved" "them" "wrong". Inadequate study. Every knows that -1 space is the appropriate amount.

  17. bq Mackintosh says:

    Ugh, because I cannot help myself…

    The typographer — you know, the person who painstakingly designed and built the font you're using, and spent years on the receiving end of hard lessons about letterforms and such — spent a lot of time considering the shape of the space between letters, words, and sentences. Now, you can argue that the typographer is a fool (but then, why are you using their font, again?) but the thing you can not argue is that the typographer intended for you to use two spaces after punctuation.

    So granted, that's a pretty ballsy claim there, that declarative statement of utter certainty regarding the typographer's intent. Where do I get off with that kind of chutzpah?

    Because I do typography and there is no standard for the designing the negative space between sentences other than one. Not two. One.

    Now I'll certainly allow that there are people who are qualified to overrule the typographer's eye and judge that for particular applications, that negative space needs to look elsewise. I'll also maintain that if the person overruling the typographer has no further typographical qualifications than the ability to operate a space bar without injuring themselves or others, then in this scenario the fool is less likely to be the typographer than the overzealous space bar operator.

    This is usually the time when many people express a sentiment of JESUS MONOMANIA CHRIST WHO CARES I JUST WANT TO USE MY SPACE BAR THE WAY I WANT TO then sure, go ahead. But if you do so while arguing that you're "right," then you're going to be as foolish as your amateur typesetting looks.

    • Thomas Lord says:

      Oh, please. No working typographer takes this kind of scientific approach:

      "The researchers then clamped each student's head into place, ...."

      Keep your mere opinions to yourself.

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