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One space or two?

By Jim Palmer

Last fall, my wife reposted something she read on Facebook. It read, “Dear friends over 37: You don’t have to put two spaces after the period anymore. That was for the typewriter era. You’re free!”

Minutes after the repost, she realized that she had struck a nerve. Comments came back almost immediately, and opinions were strong, fun, and fantastic. The strong ones were mostly made with a hint of sarcasm, which also added to the fun.

While some people had known about the switch, there were many who first learned in this post that only one space is needed after a sentence. And only a few of the people who knew about it had been successful in retraining their thumb to just strike the space bar one time each sentence. The majority of the responders were firmly against the switch from two spaces to one. Here are some of the comments:

“No way. I’m not changing. I don’t care what this guy says. Note; two spaces after every period. space space.”

“I can’t stop!”

“This is BS… A conspiracy, I’m not changing. One space looks inappropriate. My keyboard’s space bar is safe.”

“This cannot be true. It’s foundational!”

A number of responders said that their children had been making fun of them for years for still using two spaces... but they just weren’t willing to make a change.

Like most people my age and older, I was taught to use two spaces after every period when I was in junior high. When I got to college and pursued a journalism degree, everything changed. Although two spaces was still OK in my English classes, they were not OK in my journalism classes. In newspaper journalism, adding two spaces after a period would mean a red mark on my paper. This is because in the newspaper world, every story is written to be concise and every inch of a newspaper is thought to be precious space. So, journalists are not supposed to use two spaces because it is a waste of space – space that could be used to add more information to that edition. When I switched to one space in my journalism classes, I switched for my English classes as well. In other words, I really haven’t used two spaces since about 1993.

I should mention that all journalists do not follow this rule. Many of our writers at Senior Perspective worked at one time for a newspaper, and probably half of our writers still use two spaces after each sentence. This does require more editing on their stories, but I understand that is not an easy habit to break, and so I don’t hassle them too much.

Why were there two spaces after a sentence in the first place? Well… that dates back to the early days of typewriters and monospaced fonts. These fonts were pretty tight on the typewriters and printing presses, so an extra space was added so it was clear that one sentence was ending and a new one was beginning.

For several decades, young typing students were taught to use two spaces as it was known as the universal way of doing it. As the years passed and typewriters became a thing of the past, word processors took over and used fonts that allowed for plenty of room after a period. That extra space just wasn’t needed anymore. And while typing teachers were informed of the new style change, not all were ready to make it part of their curriculum. As the saying goes, it is hard to teach old dogs new tricks. My guess is the teaching of two spaces after a sentence is probably still happening in some classrooms across the U.S.

Almost every style guide out there now advises a single space between sentences, including all the big ones… the Associated Press Stylebook, the MLA Handbook by the Modern Language Association, the Chicago Manual of Style, APA Style, and the Microsoft Manual of Style.

According to my five-minute research, some professions are reluctant to change to one space, including some in the legal system and medical-related professions. Some industries say they like that extra space to have more room to write notes.

The change over to one space may take several generations to complete (we are already 2-3 generations into it now), and there is apparently a group of people who are adamantly against the change. This means this argument will likely go on for generations to come. These people are called the “two spacers.” The “two spacers” argue the extra space signals the end of a complete thought more effectively. Others in this group say the two spaces allows the paragraph to breath easier, makes sentences easier to read, and allows your brain that split second extra to relax before taking on the next sentence. Some even say that they have the science to back them up – claiming that researchers found that those reading a paragraph with two spaces between sentences were less likely to have their eyes linger than someone with double-spaced sentences. For this last paragraph, I used two spaces. Did it help keep your eyes from lingering?

If you bring up this topic in just about any group of people over 35 years old, you are bound to get a big reaction. Don’t believe me? Just try it!

But I encourage you to not get too worked up over the reactions you get. First.. it is really not a huge deal. And second, there are bigger fish to fry in this world. We still need to figure out daylight savings, decide whether clowns are funny or scary, and come to a final decision on whether or not a hot dog can be considered a sandwich.

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