Monday, January 17, 2011

Double Spaced

Apparently I’m evil. You would think it would pay better.

I learned to type in 8th grade, because I had to. This was back in the pre-web days, when computer programs came punched on inch-wide paper tapes and only defense scientists used the Arpanet. It was entirely plausible, in other words, for a person to envision a professional, white-collar life that didn’t involve typing every day. My parents wanted me to learn how to type and had bought me a succession of small portable typewriters as incentive, and while I enjoyed plinking around on them I never did quite manage to get around to learning how to type in any meaningful way that involved more than two fingers. It was fun, but it seemed like an unnecessary skill.

This school district did not agree.

So in 8th grade they shunted us into a newly-constructed classroom that they had carved out of the back of the cafeteria and vowed to teach us to type. The room was set up with long tables running widthwise across it, and at intervals on those tables were placed old-fashioned manual typewriters – big, heavy, black things made of wrought iron and anger, each of which weighed more than the student sitting in front of it, sometimes by a whole-number multiple. They were best operated with sledgehammers, which is why I went through so many keyboards once I finally got a computer. You really had to punch those keys to get them to move.

There were several oddities about this room. For one thing, it had no windows at all, which was a real treat the day the power went out and plunged 25 fourteen-year-olds into pitch darkness. For another, this classroom had an odd L-shaped turn at the front that made it impossible for the teacher to see the back two rows, where I was seated, a fact that I found advantageous, as, apparently, had the person who had gotten my typewriter in the class before me.

The keys on these things were studiously left blank, the idea being that you would look up at the front wall to find the diagram of the keys there and thus learn to touch-type. Given the fact that this previous student had generously carved all of the letters onto the blank keys of my typewriter, apparently with a dagger, however, this seemed unnecessary. I wouldn’t figure out how to type without looking at my hands until graduate school.

I don’t remember many of the specific lessons that were taught in that class. Really, I only remember one in fact: double-space after a period.

So imagine my surprise to see the mindless venom being spewed my way on the internet this week by people who single-space after bringing their sentences to a full stop. Here I thought that kind of spittle-emitting rage was mostly confined to politics these days. Apparently not. It’s as close as your keyboard.

From what I can gather, the arguments for single-spacing are two-fold:

1. It looks nicer, given the predominance of proportional fonts these days.

2. The typographers say so.

To which I say, bah.

Aesthetics and authority can work both ways, folks. My authority says two spaces, and since it’s equally as random as the opposite authority, I feel perfectly justified in ignoring this intrusion. I won’t force the single-spacers to come over to the my side if they don’t want to do so – they are fully entitled to their little quirk, as it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg – but neither do I feel obliged to take them seriously on this account.

And frankly the single-space thing just looks cramped to me.

Pause a moment. Let your sentence breathe a bit. Savor it before moving on to the next one. Singe-spacing after a sentence makes it look like you’ve got five minutes left to get in ten minutes' worth of material before someone turns out the lights, and you’ve got to squeeze it all in. You’ll give yourself an aneurysm that way.

Now, the problem is that – much like morning people – the single-spacers have taken over the levers of power in the world, and they get snippy when they discover that not everyone buys into their worldview. For crying out loud, the uploader for this blog automatically converts my nicely formatted prose into a breathless rush whether I want it to or not.

Honestly, I thought that was a programming bug that would be fixed someday. Apparently it was intentional. Who knew?

What astounds me more than just the fact that there are so many people leaving out the second space and insisting that they aren’t just taking the shortcut path is the fact that they seem to be so rabid about it. It's amazing to watch unfold.

They have shots for that now.

So I go along my way, merrily double-spacing my sentences the way they should be spaced. And when the tempest dies down, perhaps I can have the teapot back for some nice chai.


Eric said...


Double-spacing after a period was something I learned to do in college, I think, when papers were expected to be handed in typed and handwritten missives were no longer acceptable by instructors. Which was fine, my handwriting even then was a lazy mishmash with, I sort of regret to admit, a self-conscious reference to Gerald Scarfe's scrawled penmanship for the cover art of The Wall that I'd cultivated in junior high school and has never wholly vanished since those formative years. But I digress: the point being that I was instructed that double-spacing after a period was correct and so I have typed ever since, though Twitter now forces me to consciously delete spaces that count against a 140-character barrier.

To change the way I type now just seems like it would be too much work to be worth the trouble. Two spaces after a period looks and feels natural. I think it looks better.

One more thought, about proportional fonts: yes, they're more common and more widely used and they look nicer. They're also not the only font that's used. I'm typing this comment in a monospaced text box, however the comment may be rendered by Blogger when it's published, and that second space is certainly easier on the eyes. And I'm doing a lot of my writing these days in a monospaced Courier variant because while Courier is ass-ugly, it's also preferred in some editorial sectors; there's a lot of inconsistency over whether any particular font is required for standard manuscript format, but the gist might be boiled down to: those who care about font almost always want a monospaced font because it makes eyeballing word count easier and those who don't care about font (as long as it's legible and/or not something like Comic Sans) aren't going to be upset that you used a monospaced font.

Sure, I'd rather look at Beryllium, or Garamond, or Licinia Aged, but that doesn't mean I'm working in those fonts when I'm trying to draft something. And when I look back on what I've written, yep, those double-spaces help my eyes in addition to being more aesthetically pleasing.

In short, count me in as part of the post-period-doublespace camp.

David said...

One more reason why I don't use Twitter. :)

Have you gone to see the comments on the original article? I read some of them and all I can think is, "this was written by a registered voter who has the same say in the running of the county as I do." Alas.

KimK said...

I'm a two-spacer and I walk proud. We need a t-shirt so we can officially have a two-spacer movement. :)

KimK said...

I thought type writers were made of rehabbed submarines. At least that's what you told me.

David said...

That or tanks.

But those are the post-WWII typewriters. These were vintage.

Unknown said...

The French leave two spaces after colons and semi-colons, too.

JudyF said...

As a self taught typist and a former high school journalism adviser I am a confirmed two spacer. I need spaces in order to read. Copy as it used to be called looks much nicer when the page elements have room to breathe. it is also helpful for those of use who are losing their vision.

David said...

Two-spacers of the world, unite!

Darren said...

It's not the blog software that's suppressing your double-spaces -- it's the way the HTML spec was written.

You see, HTML was intended to be both human- and computer-readable. This means that one might type a paragraph of text with line-breaks after each approximately 80 chars, and might indent each of those by a few spaces to make the paragraph's position in the document hierarchy visually clear.

Of course, if the spaces were each directly interpreted as a space to display, text would wrap and flow very oddly indeed. So it was decided that any number of "whitespace" characters in a chunk of text would be collapsed to a single character; and that if you wanted an additional one, you could use   for each space you needed.

It's a reasonable design trade-off under most circumstances, but it does frustrate those of us who want that extra space after a period.

David said...

Huh. I have long wondered where that " " string of characters came from when I tried to copy between Word and my browser. Now I know. :)

Thanks, Darren!

Although that does mean that Blogger will never let me double-space without my going through all sorts of gyrations, doesn't it. Oh well.

David said...

And of course if you type the [ampersand]nbsp; it just collapses it into a space. Of course it does.

In hindsight, I suppose I should have seen that one coming.

Darren said...

Yes, you have to type   to make it work. ;)