13 May

100_9021I like order in my little corner of the universe. I like the rules that keep the order in my little corner of the universe (whether I decide to follow them depends on how much disorder would be caused if the rules were bent/broken). I am okay if the rules change, as long as the change maintains or improves the order in my little corner of the universe. I don’t like when the rules change and I don’t get the memo. Then there is chaos in my little corner of the universe while I try to play catch up.

I did not get the memo when they changed the rule about how many spaces go after a period (or other end punctuation) when you type. When I learned to type (on a typewriter) back in high school, the rule was two spaces after a colon and all end punctuation. Any other punctuation mark only required a single space. For example:

She told her boyfriend she needed space, (space) and now the flat, (space) drab landscape stretched out around her in all directions. (space, space) She hoped she had enough fuel to make it down this deserted, (space) godforsaken stretch of road to the refuge of her mother’s house.

I first noticed a disturbance in my little corner of the universe a couple years ago while proofreading student papers during my sessions as an online English tutor. Only about half of the students were inserting two spaces after end punctuation. The first couple of times I noticed this, I simply explained to the students the proper (as I had learned them) spacing rules, and no one voiced any objections. However, by the time I’d proofread a dozen papers with single spaces after any and all punctuation, I began to get uneasy. Had someone changed the rules? Was one space after end punctuation now the preferred format? Did I miss the memo? Google supplied the answers to my questions…yes, yes, and not exactly. You see, there wasn’t really a single formal announcement of this rule change, it just gradually infiltrated revised editions of style manuals as computers replaced manual typewriters, and anyone who was out of the practice of writing formal papers (therefore negating the need for a style manual) was left unaware.

Paul Brians, Emeritus Professor of English at Washington State University, has addressed the reason for the change to the spacing rule in his book Common Errors in English Usage. His website of the same name contains this explanation:

In the old days of typewriters using only monospaced fonts in which a period occupied as much horizontal space as any other letter, it was standard to double-space after each one to clearly separate each sentence from the following one. However, when justified variable-width type is set for printing, it has always been standard to use only one space between sentences. Modern computers produce type that is more like print, and most modern styles call for only one space after a period. This is especially important if you are preparing a text for publication which will be laid out from your electronic copy. If you find it difficult to adopt the one-space pattern, when you are finished writing you can do a global search-and-replace to find all double spaces and replace them with single spaces.

After learning of the new rule, I stopped chastising students for improper spacing in my online tutoring sessions, but I continued using two spaces after end marks in my own writing. (Remember I said I like rules, but I decide whether or not to follow them?) Until January, that is, when I started this blog. Sometimes when I published a post, the finished entry would contain sentences within a paragraph that began one space in from the left margin. That’s because I’d inserted two spaces in the text editor, only one of which would fit on the original line in the final layout. The second space was transferred to the following line during the text wrap operation. This Type-A girl couldn’t handle a left margin that was not justified, so I was forced to adopt the one space punctuation rule tout de suite.

The transition was tough at first; old habits die hard, and all that. But I think I’ve pretty well got the hang of only tapping once on the space bar now when I end a sentence. However, when I eventually have a manuscript ready to submit for publication, I’ll be sure to use the global search-and-replace recommended by Mr. Brians.

Today’s ramblings were inspired by the Write 4 Ten prompt, Space, which landed in my inbox a couple hours ago. If you’re ever short on ideas (or time) for writing, you might consider subscribing to their prompts–anyone can carve out ten minutes to write, there are no limits on genre, and there aren’t any other restrictions to worry about.



Posts I commented on today:
Maps (Nouveau Scarecrow)
Want to Join a New Blog Challenge? (Janice Heck: My Time to Write)  new blog of the day
Blog Every Day in May: A Challenge (story of my life)  second new blog of the day 🙂


Posted by on May 13, 2013 in Monday Mix, On Writing



4 responses to “Space

  1. Janet domino

    May 13, 2013 at 11:50 PM

    I know what you are talking about! I did not find out until I was editing for the church and Pastor Mark “informed” me only one space was required. My thumbs still hit the bar twice! Something about old dogs not being able to learn new tricks! 😏(speaking of myself, of course!)

  2. Michael J. Cahill

    May 15, 2013 at 2:07 AM

    As Bill Clinton so eloquently remarked, “I feel your pain.”

    Of course, I too grew up with the standard double-space-after-a-period logic and only a few years ago was unceremoniously informed that my rantings over people’s poor typing habits had been trumped by the new text layout of computers and offset printing.

    Damn, I hate to be so publicly proven wrong when I have made so adamant a case for the opposite.

    I’m still coming to grips with the seemingly intentional misuse of the English language. All the romance languages (English, German, Spanish, French, Italian) were rooted originally in Latin. And I studied Latin. Yes, I failed it twice — but, damn it, I STUDIED it. And the prefix “in” means against or not. So to say something is valuable is one thing. But to say it’s invaluable technically means it’s valueless.

    Not so, according to new world standards. Though historically incorrect, the rules of English usage are radically changing — and in favor of the sub literate.

    I’m utterly inflammable over this…… : ]

    Thanks for another wonderful post. Cheers.

    • dreaminofobx

      May 15, 2013 at 7:13 PM

      Yes, you’re right, the English language seems to be going to hell on a sled. It’s hard to know how long to stick to what you know used to be right before jumping ship to keep up with the times.

      My next investigation will be the placement of punctuation when using quotation marks. It seems that periods are drifting outside the quotes in about half the papers I proofread, but I have not consulted any knowledgeable sources to see if this is the new preferred format or just inattention to detail on the part of the writer. I was hoping to fully adjust to the no double space thing before having to embrace another rule change!


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