Saturday, February 26, 2011

Are You a Two-Spacer?

Once More With Feeling

Are you a two-spacer? I admit that I am. That admission, according to James Snider who holds an MBA in Marketing at The University of Texas, dates me. In a recent UT blog post he says it is a clue to how old I am and more.

“If you put two spaces after a period in a sentence, it tells me that you learned to type on a typewriter,” Snider says. “If you are in the habit of putting two spaces after every sentence, you might consider removing that extra space from your resume. It is dating you.”

It’s probably true.

In the seventh grade in Dallas, I was handed a blue book entitled “Manual of Standard Usage in Written Work” produced in 1959. I still have it.

Nowhere in it does it mandate that there must be two spaces after a period, but I’m sure that Lakewood Elementary School teacher Mrs. Brubaker said to do it. If it wasn’t she, it was my typing teacher in my senior year at Woodrow Wilson High School.

The Columbia Guide to Standard American English, published in 1993, is silent about spaces after periods too.

My Associated Press Style Book doesn’t address the question of spaces after a period, but regarding punctuation, it is seen as a courtesy to readers. “Think of it as a courtesy to your readers, designed to help them understand a story. Inevitably, a mandate of this scope involves gray areas. For this reason, the punctuation entries in this book refer to guidelines rather than rules. Guidelines should not be treated casually, however.”

While the columns of the AP Stylebook are justified, it appears that there is only one space after their periods in a normal entry. Is this an inference on their part? My edition of the stylebook was published in 1977, long before social media.

Texas-ex Snider, says Twitter is one of the reasons why one space after a period is now acceptable in all but academic circles. Twitter only gives you 140 characters to make your point. Every space equals a character, you know. So, eliminate them wherever you can. Right? Facebook limits the characters in your “Status” too. So, after the period, it’s one space. Period! Is social media dictating our punctuation nowadays?

Writing for Slate, Farhad Manjoo in January this year makes it clear, he’s a space hater. “I've received press releases and correspondence from the biggest companies in the world that are riddled with extra spaces,” Farhad writes. “Some of my best friends are irredeemable two spacers, too, and even my wife has been known to use an unnecessary extra space every now and then (though she points out that she does so only when writing to other two-spacers, just to make them happy).”

“Samantha Jacobs, a reading and journalism teacher at Norwood High School in Norwood, Col., told me that she requires her students to use two spaces after a period instead of one, even though she acknowledges that style manuals no longer favor that approach. Why? Because that's what she's used to. ‘Primarily, I base the spacing on the way I learned,’ she wrote me in an e-mail glutted with extra spaces,” Farhad says.

Farhad also cites space-hating pros.

"A space signals a pause," says David Jury, the author of About Face: Reviving The Rules of Typography. "If you get a really big pause—a big hole—in the middle of a line, the reader pauses. And you don't want people to pause all the time. You want the text to flow."

Mr. Farhad seems to see punctuation in news stories and even personal email in black and white terms. No. Like my copy of the old AP Style Manual says, usage of punctuation is a gray area, allowing change and perhaps growth.

Yes, I learned that two spaces after a period was the right thing to type when you write. I do believe that the spaces are a courtesy to the reader, making it easier on the eye. Yet, when I tweet, yes, I only use one space.

I’m obstinately “old school”, but I want it both ways.

© Jim McNabb, 2011


Nancy Miller Barton said...

Absolutely a two spacer! Wouldn't do it any other way--- makes copy easier to read (course that may also be an age indicator!).

Ben said...

Well, Jim, if this dates me....I have always put one space after any point of punctuation because that's what I was taught to do when I learned how to hand-set type (one three-em space after a point, same as the standard space between words).

Old Ben Sargent

bill said...

It's not because of Twitter. Word processing programs do the spacing automatically, and have been doing so for a long time.

James Snider said...

Hi Jim, thanks for the mention. This topic has generated more comments and criticisms than anything else I have written. Unwittingly, I found a topic which is highly controversial. Who knew basic grammar could be so exciting?

James Snider

NewsMcNabb said...

James, I guess I'm a grammar geek. When I saw your post, I couldn't help myself. I had to put my take on it. I didn't want to rip you off, but it was irresistible!
I also posted on Facebook. It got a lot of comment there too.