Embrace the Single Space

There’s been a lot of talk about Opus’s presidential campaign and his “wedge” issue. Opus is advocating for two spaces after a period. I think Opus is as qualified for office as any of the candidates, and in the case of Donald Trump, he may even be more qualified (given the choice between Donald Trump and a fictitious cartoon penguin, I’d vote for the fictitious cartoon penguin any day). The factions are vehement in their support of what they see as “right.” The rallying cries of, “bossy Liberals!” and “antiquated Neanderthals!” (as artist Berke Breathed characterized the two sides in one of his strips) are loud and many (and second only to those who want someone to take up the cause of the Oxford, or serial, comma, which really doesn’t need any help because it’s easy to prove how necessary it is with the Strippers-JFK-Stalin example—Google it).

I myself am a devoted one-spacer. When I typed on a typewriter, I was a two spacer, but when I started using Facebook and Twitter, which count spaces as “characters” I switched allegiances.  When you can add two or three or even four extra characters to a post or tweet, and when those characters can make or break a joke, I see a strong argument for converting. Sacrifice an unnecessary space in favor of a laugh? I’m in.

I have a friend (ahem*Jeff*ahem) who continues to adhere to the outdated, archaic practice of two spaces. His logic (inasmuch as one could call it “logic”) is that it makes a text easier to read. It’s more elegant. Well, so are hoop skirts, but you don’t see them on the street anymore.

My argument is that we’ve evolved beyond the need for two spaces. Just as we no longer use or need our appendix, two spaces is an idea whose time has passed. It’s not the only thing from earlier generations that has outlived its usefulness. New information has caused opinions to change and for us to ultimately reject many beliefs we previously regarded as nearly scriptural. Let’s have a little looksee at some of the wisdom we once accepted that has been proven false.

For starters, once upon a time there were four food groups. In that scenario both ice cream and cheese were considered a serving of dairy, providing calcium to build strong bones. Today cheese is a protein, and ice cream is in that unreachable tippy top of the pyramid, the Rapunzel’s tower of food, labeled, “sugar, added fats and salt: use sparingly.” What once would have been acceptable to consume daily as part of our necessary nutritional intake is now an occasional treat.

As a child, I was allowed to stand on the front seat of our VW bug with my head pressed against the roof. When forced to slam on the breaks suddenly, my mother would fling her right arm out to prevent me flying through the windshield. When I was too tall to stand (by about age four), I sat in the front seat and the same flinging arm restraint was employed. Today we wouldn’t dream of letting our four or five year old ride in the back seat without proper restraint, much less in the front seat, but back in the day it was the norm.

Automobile safety wasn’t the only thing we were misguided about as a society. How many times were we told to wait an hour to go swimming after we ate? Mothers cautioned us about the dire cramps we were liable to get if we went swimming too soon after lunch. We’d cramp up and drown, they said, and we all believed this, in spite of the fact that no deaths caused by ill-timed aquatic exertion ever made headlines.

Of course there are also things like red dye #2, chlorofluorocarbons, DDT, and cigarettes. All things we now know to be harmful, but which at one time we used and celebrated.

And so we return to the second space after a period. The argument for its pure aesthetic is a weak one. Studies have shown that the two space format does not, in fact, enhance readability in a text. To be fair, the argument of using only one space for the same reason doesn’t hold water, either. A single space saves real estate, whether in printed material, or in an electronic version. To continue to use two spaces when there is no real benefit or need is foolish. To do so because “that’s how we’ve always done it” is short sighted indeed. If that were the case, we’d be driving around without our seat belts, and smoking three packs a day.

The world evolves. Things change. Two spaces after a period has outlived its usefulness. Let us move forward as a society, and embrace the single space.


Alison said...

Ha. I was so happy the day I figured out how to search for two spaces after a period in a submission. I blame high school typing class. I really want a typewriter. You are hilarious.

Tracy said...

High school typing class is what warped us all! And thanks!

/jeff/ said...

Interesting analogies, my friend. Comparing the clean break created by the em-space to an appendix or to the toxic use of red dye.

I think the one-space movement will be seen as quaint in the coming years. A band of typographers who sacrificed readability for profits (less paper usage, faster typesetting) when books were solely physical things.

Now that we live in the digital age, the em-space (double-width space) costs no more than the en-space (single-width space), which frees us to once more create content focused on clarity and consumption, not on cost-savings and manual labor.

I believe you mentioned that the en-space was better for typing tweets and other messages where there are character limits. I agree that, in cases where space is at a premium, the en-space still has a place. However, I also don't consider comments and tweets to bastions of literary content.

Hail the return of the em-space. For some of us, you never left. :-)

Oh, and Opus for President.

/jeff/ said...

...by the way, I've never tried to read a hoop skirt.

Gigi said...

I'll give you the space-saving qualities regarding Tweets. But, in other forums, I have to politely disagree...mainly because I cannot break the two-space habit; nor do I desire to do so.

But then again, I still write in cursive - despite the fact that schools no longer teach the art - so clearly, I'm a rebel.

Tracy said...

Jeff - the readability myth is just that--neither one nor two space texts is more readable than the other. And while I would agree that comments and tweets are not necessarily literary masterpieces, why flip back and forth from one format to the other? Would you use one space in a tweet, but two in a document? Just pick one. One space takes less time, fewer keystrokes, and less room. And yes, we are in the digital age, but there is still such a thing as printed material, and as much as everyone keeps picking up the phone to call the florist for the order of flowers to be sent to the funeral home for the services of the printed book, such things continue to exist. And you can't deny the ice cream analogy.

Gigi - I write in a form of cursive, so I'm with you on that. As for one vs two spaces, I am of the "live and let live" school, since other people using two spaces doesn't really impact me. I just like to stick it Jeff. ;)

Carin Harris said...

Love it! Glad to meet you.

Maureen said...

Wait. what? Ice cream is no longer dairy. Oh, damn! In work life two spaces is a must. Hard habit to break!but, just noticed typing this comment, I didn't use two spaces, a didn't even realize it.

Tracy said...

Thanks, Carin--ditto!

Maureen - I know, total bummer about the ice cream, right? It's how I got most of my "dairy" in high school. Who are we kidding? It's how I get most of it now! Yeah, professionally it's one space. In my office too. Except for rebellious throwbacks like Jeff ;)

Ashley P. said...

I still have the 2 space habit. Not sure I will ever break from it...except for twitter

Tracy said...

Ashley - it does make a difference on Twitter. Not on FB since there's no limit now, but yeah, Twitter.

Cassandra said...

Never! Never will I give up the second space.

You and Jeff want to make it official and take it to a Throwdown? Momus and I have been thinking about getting a guest throwdown in...

Margot said...

I have to say that I find this surprising coming from you, Tracy. I've always pegged you as a real stickler for correct writing form---in an appreciative way.

Thank God Cassandra came along to disagree with you. If you'd both said that the double space was no longer necessary it would be very unsettling. I'm sticking to double (excepting twitter, where I can barely make it in 140 characters). I'm too old to change, and I think I can continue to accommodate the extra time and energy it takes to hit the space bar twice.

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