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Archive for January 18th, 2011

Two Spaces Good.

Posted by Dirck on 18 January, 2011

I will not set up to be Lawgiver, nor a writing-style Moreau himself.  Strunk & White get enough flack for that.  However, I do occasionally get up upon my hind legs when I see efforts to introduce even more slackness to written communication.  The current source of my snorting is an article from Slate which I will synopsize thus: the long-standing practice of pressing the space bar twice after a period is a pointless artifact of the typewriter, and sticking to it in this age of WYSIWYG word processing and in-machine “typesetting” is not only pointless but in fact obnoxious as it introduces unnecessary white space into one’s document.

The synopsis is, of course, less weighty than the actual article, and I’ll allow that the author’s argument is well enough laid out.  However, I am unconvinced, and will persist (as I have since 1984) in period space space at the end of each sentence.  Why?  Because I’m not that concerned about the mere visual weight of the paragraphs I’m writing.  I’m rather more worried about encoding the data of language as it’s rattling around inside my head into a form which another person will comprehend in nearly the same  way as I did when I strung it together.

The author of the Slate article quotes someone else in his defence:

“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.”

Actually, I do want a pause.  That’s what the period is all about, or so I thought.  If speaking rather than typing a sentence, I take little pauses by as I go, be they for breath or for emphasis, parenthetical tangents, or other rhetorical purposes, not long enough for the person to whom I am speaking to insert their own oar, and once I get to the point of the sentence I’ll take a slightly longer pause to show that I have more or less wrapped up this particular thought.  Commas and periods rather than breath control in this form, yes?

Reliance on the period alone, and this was the point made to me in first year university when I was first invested in the mysteries of double spacing, leads to some confusion.  If, for example, I’m writing about a law case, a double space makes it rather more clear when I stop writing the title of the action R. v. Mr. and Mrs. J. Average.  See how confusing that might be?

I hope you see.  I fear autocorrect may be taking my choice of spacing away from me; not here, yet, but it’s certainly afflicting me in some other web fora.  If we start worrying about nothing but visual weight and flow, after all, wemayfindourselvesinthissortofsituation.Noteasytoread, is it? 

I’m sticking with two spaces on the keyboard.  I hope the vast gulfs of white space between the sentences you will consider as inoffensive waypoints, and not offensive hooks upon which your eyes might hang.  I may not present any big ideas here, but I don’t see any point in compressing them.

Today’s pen, concerned with transmitting meaning:  Parker Duofold
Today’s ink, in an interplay with white space to allow for meaning:  Herbin’s Lis de Thé

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