From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Double Spaces Are Out

Typewriter rule bites the dust



I was searching for a punctuation rule about commas, when I came across an interesting paragraph.

Spacing at End of Sentence

Use a single space at the end of a sentence and after a colon. Double spaces date back to the days of typewriters, when all characters were allotted the same amount of space. Computerized typesetting adjusts the spacing for a good fit. Extra spaces create gaps and look unprofessional.

Source: Punctuation Primer

TypewriterI had never read this rule in print before. I did read a discussion about single-spacing after a paragraph, on Sarabeth's blog a while back. It seemed to me that the younger commenters were single-spacing, and the older ones were still double-spacing. It was evidence of the difference between keyboarding (taught nowadays) and typing (taught before the Computer Age).

Miss Tibbitts, the stern typewriting teacher of my high school days, is surely feeling some un-rest, whether she is still in this world or has gone on to the next. A single space at sentence-end was always an error in her classroom of big, manual, office typewriters.

In Blogger Draft, I notice that a double space is converted into a single space plus a space-holder symbol that creates the second space. It assumes that, if you double-space, you really want two spaces. (I think previous Bloggers automatically converted double spaces to single spaces.) To be honest, the double space does look like an unprofessional gap, just as the Punctuation Primer says (quoted above).

I can't express how hard it is to abandon the double space habit. I type without much conscious thought about the process. Typed words flow from my fingers like spoken words from my mouth. My right thumb is extremely well-trained after 40 years of typing. It goes "thump thump" automatically after every period.

Even in this post about the rule of single-spacing, I double-spaced after most of the periods. I had to remove the Blogger-inserted extra space-holders manually. If I do that often enough, maybe that will teach me.

9 comments:

Michael Leddy said...

Good post. This sort of stuff is important!

I think that part of what's involved in the change to single spaces (aside from the move to proportional fonts) is that HTML doesn't recognize double spaces. (You need to use the non-breaking space character:  

I always advise my students to use one space after a period. I think it can help to show a reader (say, someone reading a job application) that the writer is at home in print.

Michael Leddy said...

I just realize that what I typed turned of course into a non-breaking space (duh!). The non-breaking space is & nbsp ; (minus the spaces I've added).

Genevieve said...

A non-breaking space (& nbsp; minus the space) is what Blogger Draft inserts for the second space. I was being a bit oblique when I called it a "space-holder symbol."

RunAwayImagination said...

During the summer of 1962 following my Sophomore year of high school, I took a combined class in personal typing and "notehand," which is an abbreviated form of Gregg shorthand (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregg_shorthand). I dare say that the skills I learned in that class were more useful to me than all of my other high school (and possibly college) classes combined. I have also found it hard to break the habit of double-spacing after periods (like this). We learned to type in a regular rhythm so as not to jam the keys together. Remember how to center text horizontally on a page?

It's fun to geeze. Thanks for the post.

Genevieve said...

Oh my gosh. Centering! What a pain.

Sarabeth said...

I first learned to type on a regular typewriter, but the advent of word processors is what changed my habit of spacing. I wrote a lot of papers in high school and college due to legislation that we called The Gordon Rule. The amount of pressing keys changed my habit very quickly.

Yes, I remember how to center horizontally on a page. I had a fabulous typing instructor.

My professor for my master's degree would tell us tales about how he had to purify his own enzymes before doing an assay. He lamented that progress deprived us of that stage of learning.

Collagemama said...

Mrs. Anderson, my eighth grade typing teacher, will not let me stop double-spacing after a period. She also won't let me stop typing three spaces after the state abbreviation before the zip code. That was how we learned it in 1968, and if it was good enough for the quick brown fox leaping over the lazy puppy then, it is good enough for me now.

I cannot drive without buckling my seat belt, or eat without a napkin in my lap. Some things just shouldn't be unlearned!

Lesa said...

I had not thought about that "quick brown fox leaping over the lazy puppy" in years! My thumb will always be a two spacer thumb!

Anonymous said...

OFF TOPIC: Just to make sure... we all DO know that "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" is an exercise that uses every letter of the alphabet (?) I hope the reference to "the quick brown fox leaping over the lazy puppy" was just to add a cute factor.

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(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

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