This is one of the great controversies of writing. It’s ranked with the arguments of notebook versus computer, pencil versus pen, noise versus silence, or outline versus spontaneity.
One space after a sentence… or two?
Traditionally, the answer is two spaces. Typewriters would give the same amount of space for an i as for an m, making strangely-placed holes all across the page. In order to make the end of a sentence stand out, a typist would give two spaces after a period. It was a mark of finality after the sentence. The two spaces gave a large THE END written in Day-Glo yellow letters, underlined twice and spotlit for good measure.
When electronic typewriters and computers became more commonly used, people finally found a way to make “mime” look less like “mi me” by making the spacing conform to the size of the letter. Words looked cohesive again. The specific spacing didn’t stop at letters, however, but extended to punctuation. Periods, exclamation marks and question marks– any punctuation commonly found at the end of a sentence– got an extra little sliver of space at the end. This combined with a single space provided enough of a hole in the line that it would be generally understood that the sentence had ended. That is all. It is finished. Fin. A single space became sufficient to signal the finality of the sentence.
But like a five-year-old holding desperately to his last purple crayon, many people said no to this new development that was trying to take tradition away from them. They liked their English spacing (two spaces) and were sticking to it. With the proportional spacing giving periods and other punctuation marks extra glory, this gave massive holes at the ends of sentences.
This is what happens when technology tries to fix things without the consent of the people.
Many Language Arts teachers teach English spacing because it was how they were taught. Now, imagine that logic with other facets of writing. Soon you get kids pushing their computer monitors off of their desks, trying to use the carriage return. You get a kid dipping his ballpoint pen into an inkwell every few words. Imagine with anything taught differently from how it was in the past. Soon you have someone using reins on a motorcycle, filling their electric lawn mower with gasoline, trying to raise a square-rigged canvas sail on the flagpole of a motorboat.
One way to argue would be to go with the times and adapt to new technologies. The other way to argue would be to stick with tradition instead of being controlled by technology.
Most word processing programs on computers allow both English and French (single) spacing. I found out once by a typing mistake that Microsoft Word even lets triple spacing go by without comment. But other things automatically removes a second space. When I type HTML into this blog’s word processor, it insists on French spacing.
In handwriting, you would think that French spacing would be preferred, since there is no call whatsoever for two spaces after a period as all letters’ spacing is proportional anyway. Then again, humans are prone to error and they often make spacing mistakes. The space between a period and the beginning of the next sentence might occasionally be smaller than the space between two words. Humans are hardly precise, so perhaps English spacing would be more useful.
The mystery here is not which is correct. Due to technological advances in the world of mechanized typing, French spacing is indisputably correct in that area. The question now is whether to go with what’s correct as of this minute, or to stick with tradition and carve the turkey with an ax instead of that Cutco all-purpose carver you got for Christmas last year.
I would vote for going with technology. We’ve got it, why not use it? (Note to self: Never use that statement in regards to nuclear explosives.) I say French spacing, partially because the French are cool and partially because it’s just the way we’re meant to type. Though it is nice to stick with tradition, it gets a little bit ridiculous eventually. That’s why we use Cutco.
Many say French spacing. Many say English spacing. Inside this post, I’ve been using English spacing, except in a few select distinctly-French-space-promoting paragraphs (paragraphs 4, 7, 11 and 12). English spacing is how I’ve been taught. I might soon revert to French spacing completely.
The real mystery is… what do you think?