One lump or two, luv?

Friday 17 February 2012, 6.46pm HKT

THIS IS A SIDEBAR to the four-part ‘You don’t blog?’ mega-feature that’s published since 15 FEB 2012.

This sidebar chiefly relates to the copydesk advice mentioned in Part 4 of the series.

* * *

Do we use one or two character spaces
after the full stop (period)?

Ask a professional writer or a journalist (even better, a professional typesetter), and 99% of the time they’ll tell you it’s one character space.

Don’t take their word for it — take mine!

Actually, you shouldn’t have to ask. At your age, you should have been tee’d up on it already.

I happen to be a trained secretarial typist (85 wpm) and shorthand transcriber (25 wpm) as well as a trained typesetter (which is why I’m in the printing business and not practise law).

I can’t answer for earlier generations of typists, but Pitman’s Typewriting courses back in the 1970s taught two things:—

Two character spaces between sentences when using fixed-pitch founts (such as Courier and suchlike fount slugs on fixed-pitch typewriters)

One character space between sentences when using proportional founts (such as those in typesetting and on webpages, including proportional-pitch typewriters)

If two or three generations of professional typists since 40 years ago have learnt those two rules, you’ve got no excuse for not knowing!

“Every modern typographer agrees on the one-space rule. It’s one of the canonical rules of the profession, in the same way that waiters know that the salad fork goes to the left of the dinner fork and fashion designers know to put men’s shirt buttons on the right and women’s on the left.” — Farhad Manjoo (via turri design)

Never mind the bollocks.

Read this person’s article about why two spaces after the full stop is wrong, if you don’t trust what I tell you.

Another writer tells us HTML coding automatically ignores and corrects the two-space usage.

Truth to told, most blogging services won’t correct. They’ll just let it run. That’s because there are still numerous battalions of doublespaceheads out there, and these doublespaceheads will surely go ballistic at the mere possibility of being ‘corrected’ by some disembodied HTML coding autopilot and relocate their blogs elsewhere.

Not always a good business tactic to correct others, it seems, particularly via autopilot.

Never mind the bollocks.

Since the appearance of the electronic typewriter with proportional spacing in the 1970s (like the IBM Selectric ‘Golfballs’), there’s no need to put in two spaces. Read the full 2011 article in Slate magazine, which is seriously on the button.

(I had a green-coloured IBM Selectric II typewriter, made in 1974 and weighed a ton, that I used to bash on constantly until overuse completely totalled it.)

Predictably, there’s always one singular individual who takes the opposite view in a rather elegantly reasoned monograph, and used double spacing throughout his text. His reasoning may intellectually elegant, but he’s still wrong.

(Off-topic here a bit: Indeed, zeroing in on the minutiae of details and reasoning things out according to some predetermined set of ‘logical’ steps don’t necessarily make your conclusions right. You’re just ‘making things fit.’ A lot of intellectuals and academicians are operate like that, to be honest.)

Never mind the bollocks.

Let’s look at the the other side of ‘facts’:—

FACT: Xerox Corp. started the DTP (desktop publishing) craze around 1977 (Star Wars era) by developing hardware and software that use typesetting-like elements for typography.

FACT: Then came a DTP typesetting program called TeX (pronounced ‘tek’) in 1979, which was extended by LaTeK (‘laytek’) in the 1980s — both of which used true proportional founts.

FACT: Then DTP hit mainstream paydirt when the Apple Macintosh 128K computer hit the markets in 1984. What was used in the Mac quickly got taken up by Windluzer 1.0 in 1987 (in MS Write) through to Windoze 3.1 in 1992.

In other words, fully 28 years of using proportional founts on PCs and there’s a sea of morons out there who still haven’t gotten the hang of it.

Dead slow children!


All webpages (and your blog is a series of webpages) use proportional founts (unless you customise it to a fixed-pitch fount like Courier or Lucida Console — then you really are brain-damaged). Two character spaces between sentences cause your text to run with ungainly rivers of white space.

Please grow up and keep up with the times! You’re living in the 21st century now. Read my post on draft vs. manuscript.

Some philistines hard up on the brain department say they find it more readable with two character spaces — the “wider space” between sentences in printed matter.

The “wider space” ISN’T made up of two character spaces, numbskull. That’s actually an en-and-quarter space (sometimes an em space). That’s handsetting, idiot.

At the very least, these otherwise blameless individuals clearly are reading for sentence separation rather than actual content — the ‘message’ behind the sentences. This, I’ve noticed in some people for a demoralisingly long time.

Modern typesetting output machines — since the likes of the Linotype Model 6 molten-lead linecaster (1965) and the Linotronic 202N imagesetter (1972: the one I was trained on) — make automatic intersentential space adjustments according to the fount used (unless the automatic setting is overridden for some special typographical effect).

Don’t bother rationalising your preference for two character spaces with me — you don’t know enough about this than I do.

This is how I roll:—

On a computer or a compositor (and anything else that uses proportional fount), I automatically, unconsciously, conditional-behavourially, operant-conditioningly type one space after the full stop.

On a typewriter (or anything else that uses fixed-pitch fount), I automatically, unconsciously, etc, type two spaces after the full stop — even when thoroughly distracted by high-octane, high-penetration porn.

Why can’t YOU do that?

© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2012. Updated 18 May 2013 (updated tags)

Images: Manual typewriter keyboard via Online Business Blogger | Two-space ban via Doobybrain | Ascii art chick via PingMag | Scribus desktop publishing via Nyutech | Fount spacings via Tom Sarazac | Books by Ian Britton via freefoto.

11 Responses to “One lump or two, luv?”

  1. If I submitted any copy for the internet to any of my clients and it had double spaces I wouldn’t get paid. Simple.


  2. Guilty as charged! Oddly enough, when I was writing academic papers at university, Chicago style, professors demanded that I used two spaces after each sentence-ending punctuation mark. In graduate school I had to use APA style, and it was a single space. Now, it’s drilled into my head that if I’m writing about something I might have written about in graduate school, I’ll use one space. Otherwise? Two. Automatically, and without thought. Even in this comment? Two spaces. And now I’m horribly aware of it and I feel incredibly awkward for it… O.o


    • Don’t feel bad. Like I said, I’m also on autopilot myself, and I’m easy on people. It doesn’t really matter so long as it’s consistent. Do whatever the organisation wants from you. In my business line (financial printing), I tell clients that if they supply me with double-spaced copy for typesetting, I’ll have to charge extra for manual removal of those characters in order to comply with regulatory requirements. They complain why – and I tell them financial print materials are considered legal documents. It’s their loss if I’m made to f@#k up on their behalf.


  3. Ed Hurst said

    This reminds me of all the cyclists here in Oklahoma still riding against the traffic. Granted, Oklahoma was dragged kicking and screaming into the modern age by federal nagging and bullying, but once the serious cyclists gained some political pull, it quickly became mainstream here. The federal policy was settled some 35 years ago, and we have riders younger than that refusing to cross the street, making car drivers very nervous.

    When I bother to print, I’ll use LibreOffice when it’s not serious, but I still prefer Lyx (frontend for LaTeX) for serious print work. When I first touched computers in the Army, it was DOS and the Enable office suite. I learned right away electronic documents do not double-space. I never looked back. Now if I could just get Vim to stop inserting random double-spaces…


    • I see the analogy. For ‘unserious’ work, I just bang out the paperwork on MS Office 97 (hey, I’ve no need for any higher features – it’s just letters and memos). For paid work (which may or may not be serious), I just fire up the typesetting machine, which uses a proprietary typesetting OS called 3B2.

      Yeah, I got started on DOS too. It wasn’t as bad as most people make it out to be. Wished the drivers loaded more correctly in DOS, though. Now we have Windoze 7-Eleven and the drivers load well, but then there’s all the other crap to contend with that goes with it. I agree with you when you blogged about computers a while back – they all stink.

      With computers now, I no longer have the excuse “Sorry, I’m still typing the wretched thing!”


  4. Normski said

    You call people “idiots” who, like me, prefer two spaces after a full stop, but you yourself can’t spell “font” or “numbskull” or “teed” or “LaTeX”. LaTeX offers the choice of one or two spaces between sentences, and considering the expertise of the people who wrote it, I don’t think that it can be quite such the execrable practice as you clearly do.


    • People who prefer two spaces after a full stop/period is fine. Nowhere did I accuse them as idiots for their preferences. People ARE idiots if they simply point to the slightly wider spaces they see in hand-set books as a basis for their beliefs that two spaces are correct (para. 27).

      Yes, it is true that LaTeX offers a choice of one or two spaces.

      But is also true that ALL electronic typesetting systems and applications (such as Tex, Lyx, 3B2, Linotype, Linotron 202N, etc) offer a choice of one, two or ANY specified space width between characters, words, sentences and lines.

      Even in handsetting, there are em and en space slugs in full widths and up to 1/8th to 1/16th increments thereof.

      Nowhere did I say LaTeX (or any other system) didn’t offer a choice, so I don’t know where you got the idea that I was saying otherwise.

      It IS an bad practice to use two spaces in electronic typesetting and/or when using PROPORTIONAL founts in a paid, PROFESSIONAL situation. I’ve explained the whys and wherefores already in the article.

      You seem to question the expertise or experience of others in this matter, so I would be grateful if you tell us something of your experience in this matter.

      Like I said, I personally prefer TWO SPACES whenever I use FIXED-PITCH founts and one space with proportional founts.

      By the way, ‘fount’ (AmE: font), numbskull (AmE: numskull) and ‘tee’d up’ (AmE) are correct spellings, as is LaTeX.

      For the purposes of this website, our stylebook uses ‘tee’d’ (with apostrophe), mainly because ‘teed’ could be misconstrued as a typo for ‘tied.’ “Tee’d up” has been in use since 1710.

      “Numbskull” is an alternative spelling for the more americanised (AmE: Americanized) ‘numskull.’

      Even if I were defer to your view that ‘fount,’ ‘numbskull’ and ‘LaTeX’ are typos, I don’t reckon misspellings would significantly detract from the essential ambit of the article. So if I couldn’t spell, as you put it, would that devalue what I was saying?

      How many typos could you find in the article? How many typos does it take for you to consider an article worthless? Indeed, why would a tiny handful of typos make you take that stance?


    • Just for your amusement, there IS one typo in my response above. I accidentally put it in on purpose for the sake of worthlessness.


    • Normski, are you really in the Hayes area in Cornwall in England? How long have you been using that free disposal email?


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