Mighty Red Pen

July 1, 2009

The space(s) between

Filed under: Perilous punctuation — mighty red pen @ 7:31 pm
Tags: ,

SgtGrayMatter dares to raise that old question: one space or two after a period?:

Apparently, there has been a debate going for quite some time now about whether one or two spaces should come after a period.  I never knew this was a point of contention.  I have always been taught two, have always used two, and two will probably forever be etched into my mind as the right way.  Now I’m hearing that all those stylebooks I assumed would back me up on this have turned traitor.  I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!

Being a lady of a certain age, MRP is old enough to have taken typing lessons (on a typewriter) back in the day when two spaces always followed a period. Having smoothly made the transition to computerized word processing, I have fully abandoned the two spaces and never looked back really. But I get that it’s a habit.

Chicago Manual of Style says (don’t be distracted by the beginning of this, it was a question about colons the morphed into a response about colons and periods):

A. One space after a colon. There is a traditional American practice, favored by some, of leaving two spaces after colons and periods. This practice is discouraged by the University of Chicago Press, especially for formally published works and the manuscripts from which they are published.

The AP Stylebook also prefers one space after a period, as does the Modern Language Association. The Angry Grammarian offers this, er, erudite commentary:

A million years ago, when people used typewriters, every character took up the same amount of space, so two spaces were needed to help set off sentences. It made the text flow better, and was easier on the eyes.

But now that we have pre-kerning (or, to use a similarly inside-baseball term, proportional spacing), two spaces is obsolete. The eyes are drawn to the gaping white space between the sentences rather than to the sentences themselves.

The bottom line, I think, is that it’s not a matter of grammar but of typographical preference. There is actually a decent discussion of this on the Wikipedia entry for this topic.

I’d be interested to hear what all of you think about this, though. Are you comfy using one space after a period or old habits (still) die hard with you on this one?

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