I’ve got several far more interesting things to write about, like our afternoon in the pool, last night’s bike ride in our bedroom, and our upcoming century, which we’ll spin through in one day in October . . . but all that I’ve got time for now is a more complete explanation for DenverDad, Knucklehead Marketing, and amateur font geeks. It’s a piece that I’ve written a few times since the advent of desktop publishing, in the early 90s, but it’s still kind of fun . . . if you’re a geek.
DenverDad isn’t alone in his training, which ingrained the habit of tapping the space bar twice after each period–or any other punctuation mark, for that matter. Many of us, myself included, were taught in typing class to always tap that thing twice.
Why were we taught that?
In typing class–in my day, anyway–we used typewriters, which have monospaced fonts. This means that every character takes up the same amount of space. Even though an O is much wider than an i, both are given the same amount of space by a typewriter, which means that the i sits in the middle of lots of white space, because the typewriter doesn’t know if you’ve typed an O or an i in that space. Similarly, a period, the smallest character, is surrounded by a gulf of white space.
A period, unlike letters, signals a break between two thoughts. To signal these breaks to readers, typographers have long adjusted the spacing around periods, moving the period closer to the character before it, so that there is a noticeable gap after the period. These gaps are important, because readers see a little ahead of where they are reading, and seeing the gap coming signals to readers that the end of the sentence is approaching.
On a typewriter, there is no way to move a period closer to a character. The only way to provide a noticeable gap after a period, which is already engulfed in white space, is to add a second space after it.
Why don’t we still have to tap that thing twice?
Computers are more clever than typewriters and generally use proportional fonts (although you can still use monospace fonts, like Courier). As a result, computers take care of spacing just like typographers used to, moving the period in close to create a visible gap after it. When you set them side-by-side, it’s easy to see the difference between monospace and proportional font spacing.
In addition, computers automatically break lines, and having two spaces after a sentence can play havoc with that feature, leaving a space at the beginning of a line, which unintentionally indents the line after a period. The Chicago Manual of Style Web site describes the other problems using two spaces after a period can create, all of which I’ve encountered in one place or another.
And yes, these are the kinds of issues that fill my day. This is what I’m paid to sort out. (But I’m not the only one, so there. It is so a valid way to earn a living.) So when the average air temperature at the North Pole is 110 F and we’re all digging estivation burrows to survive, I might not be so handy with the shovel. But if you need someone to properly punctuate and layout instructions for burrow digging, I’m your man. Until then, I’ll be over here, in the shade of this Arctic date palm, fanning myself with a frond and sucking the last drops of fresh water from the remains of the polar ice cap that we’re keeping in the picnic cooler.
(Come to think of it, this whole idea of digging burrows to escape the killing heat resulting from our own activities seems to be a familiar one. I wonder where I’ve encountered it before. Oh, that’s right, it was here.)
OK, talk amongst yourselves while I try to find time to write a post that even nongeeks can enjoy.
[Credit where credit is due: all that talk of tapping came from a coworker’s piece–er, so to speak–on this topic. I also mention this so you don’t think that my mind drags in the gutter behind me wherever I go. Because now that I’m a dad, I’m all righteous indignation and sanctimonious bullshit and . . . oh, crap . . . never mind.]