Squaring Off Over Literally Nothing

17 Jan

You know what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about spaces.  You see how I’m using two of them after every one of my periods?  Yes, those.  I’m apparently using too many of them.  Too many of nothing.

Here’s a really long lecture about it entitled Space Invaders: Why You Should Never, Ever Use Two Spaces After A Period.

It’s written by Farhad Manjoo, and it’s been circulating on Facebook and Twitter, and it’s one of the most bizarre lectures I’ve ever received.  Try reading it out loud with your nose plugged, to get the proper effect.

I’m convinced it’s accurate, though.  I’m clearly doing it wrong.

It’s just that I don’t care.  I’m really having a hard time figuring out why I should care.

You know who does care?  Typographers.  That’s the main point of the article.  Typographers hate it when you use two spaces, because, well, they just do.  Seriously, they don’t have any particularly compelling reasons.

Of course, it’s true, there is a rich and full history behind the rule which the article walks us through, in which we learn that long ago, there was no standard number of spaces – some folks used one, some folks used two, some used three. 

I imagine there were probably some crazy motherscratchers who went ahead and used four or ten or three hundred, because the world is incredibly old and just about everything has been run up the flag pole once or twice.

That must have been utter pandemonium, the old Wild West days of not being able to wrinkle up your nose and scold someone for violating the Standard Number Of Spaces rule.  I’ll bet back then they wore shoes on their hands sometimes, and the cheeseburgers ate people!

Fortunately, early in the twentieth century, everybody in the world agreed that it should be one space after every period.  And then unfortunately, due to our crappy typewriters or something, here in America we took a little longer.  You see, apparently, the manual typewriters we were using allowed the same amount of space between each character, and therefore there was more space between the narrower letters, and so the gap between sentences had to stand out more, and so they adopted the…


I’m sorry.  I dozed off there.  It was about the least interesting lecture I’ve ever received, even if I had it coming.  Someone walks in and tells me I’m doing something wrong, my first question is, okay, so what’s the problem?  And typically, I don’t even use quote marks when I ask that, because I’m a turkey leg-chomping barbarian.

The article gives us two answers to why it’s so wrong: Because it’s so obviously, officially wrong, and because typographers – who until now were the only ones who really knew about the rule – hate how it looks.

We even get a quote from David Jury, author of About Face: Reviving The Rules of Typography, who tells us, “It’s so bloody ugly.”

Yes.  Ugly.  This thing right in front of everybody, which no one noticed except you.  Megan Fox is a horrific monster, too – just ask David Jury, who knows WAY more about the tricky concept of ugliness than we do.

I don’t know.  I’ve been doing it this way since I was taught to type, so it would be extremely difficult to break that habit and form a new one.  I’ve probably typed no fewer than a hundred million sentences in my life – two spaces or a new paragraph after each one.

I’ve also never even met a typographer.  I suppose down the road, I might get an earful from one of them on a future book, but by that time the deal will be signed – it’s going to press, right?  I’ll just say, chill out, typographer guy, I’m Tom Chalfant.  Don’t you know that, man?

Another choice quote, this one by the author of the article:  “Is it arbitrary?  Sure it is.” 

Then we get treated to a bunch of other things which are arbitrary about writing.  Things which everybody already agrees on, instead of just a bunch of typographers with sticks up their butts.

If it’s arbitrary, and the only people who are noticing it are you guys, then it’s starting to sound like you’re the ones who are wrong.  You can have my second space when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.

I’m drawing the line here.  I’m not going to have a bunch of eggheads come in here and tell me how rigid the rules of the English language are.  We drop prepositions at the ends of our sentences right and left these days, and “ginormous” is officially a word.  Settle down.

If something’s got to change, and everybody agrees on one thing, and you guys agree on another, then you are not grasping the point of a standard.  Howza bout you guys switch on over to the two space system?  And then call your mom up and ask her if people like to receive unsolicited advice, while you’re at it.

It’s like when everybody starts squawking about how they know the correct usage of “your,” “you’re,” “their,” “there,” and “they’re.”  That’s fantastic, but this isn’t English class, it’s the freaking Internet, where people use numbers for words and make funny faces out of punctuation marks.

The new revolution in writing is that we don’t have to push past any gatekeepers.  We just write how we want, when we want, and then people decide if they want to read it and if they want to read more.  Lots of great writers will tell you rules are made to be broken.

And there are far more pressing punctuation issues – you ever noticed how liberally I use dashes?  I don’t even know if dashes are legal at all, but I know I like ’em.

And watch – this time I won’t even put a punctuation mark at the end of my sentence at all

See?  Nothing happened.  You’re overreacting.  Now get back to work and leave the writers alone, typographers.  Without us you folks wouldn’t have any sentences to bitch about.


Posted by on January 17, 2011 in Writing/blogging


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

13 responses to “Squaring Off Over Literally Nothing

  1. John

    January 17, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    I approve this post 110%. The rules are there to be broken. The greatest writers just write, and deal with the details later. If they want to adjust my writing later (if I should happen to need the services of a typographer) I’ll let them do it. That’s what they’re paid for, right?

    • Tom Chalfant

      January 18, 2011 at 2:38 am

      Those who can’t do, typograph…

  2. sparrow1969

    January 17, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    I use two spaces after each period too. It’s the way I was taught in typing class, and it’s the way I’m going to keep typing.

    My particular naughty grammar sin is using ellipsis incorrectly. See…I just did it again. Oops, my bad.

    • Tom Chalfant

      January 18, 2011 at 2:37 am

      That’s my thinking, everybody can quit writing paper checks when I’m gone, too.

  3. Kimberly Kinrade

    January 17, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    From what I understand, the standard MLA for papers and such was 2 spaces, whereas in newspapers it’s 1 because of space restrictions. So…?? 😉

    • Tom Chalfant

      January 18, 2011 at 2:36 am

      I mean, it’s completely news to me. That’s the weird thing- the article even says that. NOBODY knows this, it says. So, maybe it’s not true anymore, I says.

  4. shawn

    January 17, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    You put two spaces behind each sentence?!? I thought I knew you man…
    Personally, I use those damn periods like they frickin oxygen…can’t get enough of it, see!?!
    You may have noticed also that I like the “outrageous” question marks in two different forms. (That’s because they are many different levels of questionable outrage….)
    Plus, I sprinkle ()s fairly liberally too…oops, I mean 2.
    In summation, “your” a monster…you think you know someone…and then this?!!?
    ; )

    • Tom Chalfant

      January 18, 2011 at 2:36 am




      • shawn

        January 18, 2011 at 11:20 pm

        Ah, the Universe finally relented.

  5. Brian

    January 19, 2011 at 3:11 am

    Most written word ends up on the interwebs anyways and browsers shrink extra whitespace in html, so additional periods or tabs just get removed most of the time. For this reason, I have been fading out the double space. It is a hard habit to break though.

    Most of my writing is code that just gets displayed by a browser, so it is forcing me to change. if you can’t beat em, join em I guess.


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