At least once a season—on Twitter, or Facebook, out back of saloons—there erupts an intense and all-consuming fight about how many spaces you should leave after a period. By now most of you reading this are familiar with the outlines of the argument: the convention derives from old mechanical typewriters and the fear that typing too fast (without imposed caesuras) would lead to jammed keys; now that we all type on computers, we don’t have to worry about that, so why the hell are we still doing it?
What this argument is really about is that some people were taught a certain way of doing things and would rather not change. I get it. I am old enough that I took actual typing lessons in high school and was taught the two-space thing. But when I got my first media job I was informed by a designer that leaving two spaces after a period was just creating extra work for them, so I weaned myself of the habit out of courtesy.
And this is what’s missing from The Atlantic’s recent attempt to bring “science” into this controversy: almost all the printed matter we’ve ever had—books, newspapers, magazines, websites—(before the computer was even an idea!) contain one space after a period. This is by design, literally. Kerning, typography, the painstaking efforts of perfectionists to create the most pleasing arrangement of letters. One space. Sure, cigar-chomping columnists in the 1930s might have been double-tapping that spacebar after periods but the typesetters at the printing press in the basement sure as hell weren’t doubling up their spacers to match it.
Not to get all Zeno of Elea on your asses, but what does it even mean to say “two spaces after a period”? There can only be one space between two things. That space can be a little too small or a little too big. Designers, typographers, typesetters—they train their whole lives to get that space just right, so when you come along and mash the spacebar twice you’re making the world just a little but worse.
As for the specifics of the aforementioned study? The so-called science? It seems disingenuous at best to put a bunch of courier in front of people and test their ease of reading. When people see courier (the typewriter font!), of course they expect the extra space after the period, so it’s naturally going to seem a little cramped without it.
Look, if you, a double-spacer, take one thing away from reading this, here it is: if you’re sending something you’ve written to be published (book, magazine, website), someone else is going to have to remove all your extra spaces.
So maybe be courteous and get rid of them yourself?