Short Saturday: Space Invaders

Some months ago I ran an article about why you shouldn’t double space after a period. The comments on the blog itself were from fellow editors and thus supportive, but the amount of angry (angry!) push-back that showed up on Facebook (my account and those of my friends who reposted) was astonishing.

I routinely have to do a search-and-replace on manuscripts I’m working on, and when I (politely, honest) tell the author we don’t do that anymore, he often resists. “But I’ve always used two spaces. Who says it’s wrong?”

If you don’t trust Your Editor, we could have a problem. But don’t mind me. Farhad Manjoo at Slate has the answer, and because I like to stir things up on occasion, let’s address this emotion-fraught issue again.

Who says two spaces after a period is wrong?

Typographers, that’s who. The people who study and design the typewritten word decided long ago that we should use one space, not two, between sentences. That convention was not arrived at casually. James Felici, author of the The Complete Manual of Typography, points out … [that] as typesetting became more widespread, its practitioners began to adopt best practices … typesetters in Europe began to settle on a single space around the early 20th century. America followed soon after.

Every modern typographer agrees on the one-space rule. It’s one of the canonical rules of the profession, in the same way that waiters know that the salad fork goes to the left of the dinner fork and fashion designers know to put men’s shirt buttons on the right and women’s on the left. Every major style guide—including the Modern Language Association Style Manual and the Chicago Manual of Style—prescribes a single space after a period.

There’s more in the article, of course. Have a look. The most important concern here, I think, is some teachers are still teaching the two-space method because that’s the way they learned it themselves. Yikes. Doctors and nurses, just to name one example, have to keep current with advances made in their profession, or they can’t practice. Human knowledge moves forward. Isn’t that the way it should be?

One space after a period, people. Don’t argue with me on this.

Tweet: Why you shouldn’t double space after a period. For real.
Tweet: One space after a period, people. Don’t argue with me on this.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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  1. Wayne says:

    Not content to poke a sharp stick in the eye of writers—Jamie also goes after teachers!


  2. Marianne Sheldon says:

    Good grief. I had no idea. I’ve been a two-spacer all my life and never even questioned it. Now I’m trying desperately to put only one space between the sentences in this email and having to think about something that my fingers have done automatically for decades. Egad.

    Would you mind telling me how to do that search-and-replace on spacing? I just tried it in Scrivener and it didn’t work. I’m working on a Mac.

    • Marianne Sheldon says:

      Oops, never mind. I got it.

      • Jamie says:

        I’m on a Mac, too, but work almost exclusively in Microsoft Word, because that’s what the publishers use. Glad you found what you were looking for. I’ve heard Scrivener is wonderful.

        And thank you for your unemotional response. :) You should see what’s going on on Facebook. (Not mine; my tribe knows better than to argue with me! Hahahahaha.)

      • Jamie says:

        Oh, and btw, I think HTML removes extra spaces (she said, experimenting).

        • Jamie says:

          Yep: I put THREE spaces between “removes” and “extra.”

          • Marianne Sheldon says:

            I noticed that! I went back and checked one of my other comments on here and was surprised to see only one space between sentences. Now if only my queries had been going out in HTML….

  3. […] Spacing. We have talked and talked about this: do not double space after a period. In fact, don’t ever double space, period. And […]

  4. Beduwen says:

    Indeed, this is one of the hardest things I have had to learn and get comfortable with! I have a business degree from college and all the writing I did to achieve it required a double space after a period! Old habits do die hard, it seems!

One Trackback

  1. By Misery Loves Company: A Copyeditor’s Top 10 on 30 November, 2012 at 7:53 am

    […] Spacing. We have talked and talked about this: do not double space after a period. In fact, don’t ever double space, period. And […]