Saturday, August 4, 2012

Full stop. Space. Space?

When I learned to type, I learned that there is a double space after a full stop*.

Years later I read that whether you used a single space or a double space after a full stop was a matter of taste. Since I was in the habit of using double spaces, I continued to do so.  

The other day I read this post about how double spaces are "totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong". The gist of why is 'typographers say so'. I talked to a few people. Apparently, if you're writing something that's getting published, you'll have that second space beaten out of you. I was pretty convinced, but I wanted to do a bit more digging.

The general consensus seems to be that before there were typewriters, there was general pandemonium, and there might be any amount of space after a full stop. But it leaned towards a gap the same size as the one after a word. Then typewriters came along and, due to their limitations, people started using double spaces after full stops. Typing teachers were taught this convention and passed it on to their students and so on, and someplace along the way the real reason was lost, so the convention was taught even after the issue was no longer relevant. Therefore the single space is the one true way to type.

I was going to do a blog post about how converted I was. In fact, I kinda still am, and I'll talk about that in a bit. But first, I wanna talk about this post I found in the process of my digging. It's quite long, and there's a lot in it, including a lot of quotes from sources that pre-date typewriters. But I'll sum it up crudely** as:
- Before there were typewriters, there actually was standard. The standard was that there should be a 'em quadrant', or space the width of the letter m, after a full stop. And that there should be a space one third of that size between words.  Type setting was a manual and highly skilled job and one of the elements of skill involved was knowing when to break that rule and put in more a less space somewhere.
- The people who invented the typefaces in question used and advocated this larger space after a full stop.
- The first people putting in double spaces after full stops were trying to emulate that standard.
- The two apparent main reasons for changing to one space after a full stop were: 
  - As part of a general trend towards reducing the amount of space printing takes up, in order to reduce the cost of printing and publishing.
  - To avoid a possible ugly side effect of automation. If you have double spaces after a full stop; a simplistic type setting automation might put an automatic line break between the two spaces. That would cause a line to start with an empty space. No one wants that. So they were written instead to consider anything more than one space an 'error', anywhere it occurs, and just leave it out.

Right, I said I'd get back to why this is still kinda a post about how converted I am. Having read that second post I will not be the evangelical, newly converted, single-space user that I would have been.  But I will be making an effort to use single spacing myself in future***. Because there is an agreed standard now. And regardless of how long it has been around, or how wrong the people who follow it are about its origins, it is a standard. 

Also, I have come across four attitudes to this:
1) Either is fine, but I prefer two spaces****
2) Either is fine, but I prefer one space
3) One space is right, because typographers say so
4) Two spaces is right, because my typing teacher said so

In cases 1, 2, and 3, I'm better off if I'm using single spaces. And frankly, I'm not all that bothered by what your typing teacher taught you. So me? I'm a single spacer now. But you can do what you like.

*I speak hiberno English. In hiberno English, the punctuation mark that marks the end of a sentence is called a full stop. I am often surprised by how many hits my blog gets from the United States. Assuming that this is more than just one person sitting and hitting refresh a lot, I apologise to my American readers if the whole 'full stop' thing makes this harder to read. 
**I read the post once. And it's late. I apologise for any inaccuracies or misunderstandings here. And if you point them out I'll change them. In the meantime, I'm reasonably sure that's roughly what it says.
***In fact, the last thing I'm going to do before publishing this post is check it for double spaces. 
****The author of the post in question says that how you space is up to you but please stop trying to enforce your view on the world. So he probably fits in there.


  1. Interesting, I wondered where double spaces came from because it drove me batty going through a response to brief recently with them.

  2. "So they were written..." What is "they"? Typography software? Or software in general? Because Word retains two spaces and renders them. So, apparently, does HTML, it just wont render the second space.

    1. Phototypesetters. The relevant quite from the article is

      ' Further automation developed in the era of phototypesetting led to a situation where line breaks and extra spaces were truly problematic.  Automatic line breaks could occur between two spaces, thereby beginning a new line with an undesirable empty space.  The solution for programmers was simple: phototypesetters would simply ignore extra white space and treat it as an error.'

  3. "So they were written..." What is "they"? Typography software? Or software in general? Because Word retains two spaces and renders them. So, apparently, does HTML, it just wont render the second space.