Stupid Arguments for Pedantic People: One or Two Spaces after a Period

KeyboardThere are certain arguments that attract certain people. Arguments that sane people ignore for the simple reason that none of the positions raised actually matter in any way. This series will explore some of them.  Here’s one.

Do you place one space or two after a sentence-ending period when typing? Do you “Period – Tap” or “Period – Tap – Tap”.  If you learned to type on a typewriter (as I did) you were likely taught to use a double space. For those taught on a word processor you might have been taught either way. Looking through any reasonably varied stack of books and you’ll see a proud mishmash of spacing styles.

I was introduced to this idiocy when, for whatever reason, I was typing in front of a friend who suddenly began snorting and chortling uncontrollably.  “What,” I asked?  Regaining his composure, with some difficulty, he replied, “You use two spaces after a sentence?!  I thought you knew what you where doing!” XKCD recently did a comic on the issue, so clearly I’m not the only one that’s dealt with this.

The Argument

The argument most often set forth is for one space after a sentence.  The reasons range from the from a calm and sober, “It’s a standard”, to the clearly insane, “You can type faster using only one space!” There’s also a common, but meaningless, argument about proportional versus monospaced fonts. For the most part the arguments rest on the idea that the two-space rule was in place for typewriters because they used a mono-spaced font while proportional font devices like computers should use one space.  Two-space zealots do exist but are exceedingly rare in comparison.  Their arguments tend to hinge on the idea that two spaces make text more readable. There’s also the more reasonable response that they were taught that way.

Both sides will also wax eloquently and at length about how the history of typography supports their side, unquestionably.

The Response

Of course, none of the arguments really make sense either way. While a proportional font does change the spacing between letters it does nothing for spaces at the end of sentences.  The kerning rules (the instructions built into a font to determine spacing) have no idea if that period you just typed is at the end of a sentence or not. So, if adding two spaces on a typewriter was really “a good thing” then it would remain so regardless whether the font is monospaced or proportional.  Obviously any argument about typing speed is ludicrous simply because the situation makes up such a small part of any typing experience.

Similarly, nobody seems able to explain why the arbitrary standards of professional typographers (for whom “space” is a meaningless concept without additional information anyway) should matter to me when I’m writing a Facebook post.  In any case the “standard” for professional typography is actually far from “standard” and has changed regularly with the times and the technology which is exactly why both sides in the argument can use it to defend their position.

The Reality

None of it matters.  Not even a little bit. Unless, of course, you are a professional typographer then, admittedly, it matters. But even then, just a little bit and, I’ll wager, you’re not a professional typographer.  Computers don’t care – in point of fact, can’t care – if you type one space or two and chances are that anybody you meet won’t either. However you learned to type, keep doing that.

Further, if anybody actually challenges you on how you’re doing it, feel free to ignore them. Forever.

Updated: November 20, 2013 — 4:01 pm

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