The Mystery of The Outer Space

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?

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26 Comments

  1. Erin

     /  July 7, 2012

    I’ve been taught to use French spacing, and that’s what I always use and prefer. I couldn’t imagine putting two spaces after all my sentences since I’ve never learned that way.

    Reply
    • So that’s how you learned, but how does it look? Does your writing look crowded? Does my writing, English spaced, look full of holes? This is what I’m trying to figure out: which looks better?

      Reply
      • Erin

         /  July 7, 2012

        Honestly, I can’t see much of a difference between the two.

      • Some people think French spacing is rushed. After you get used to looking at English spacing, it can be. *shrugs*

  2. My parents and I have argued over this, actually. I use French because it looks nicer. They use English, which is too jarring to my eyes – why all the big spaces?

    Actually, I’d never even thought of WHY there were two spaces.

    Reply
    • I hadn’t either until I looked it up on a whim. Interesting fact, though, huh?

      Reply
      • Yep! I’ve never noticed if the spacing looks weird when I write on a typewriter – but then again, I’m terrible on them. I love using them, but I keep forgetting to make margins, etc.

      • I’ve never used one, but I’d like to. It sounds cool.

  3. I definitely prefer French spacing, especially when I type. I’ve never had to double space at the end, and starting now would not only be awkward but it would be supremely annoying. Plus it would look all gap-y and weird and uneven.

    Reply
    • It’s just a double click on the space bar instead of a single click. Not too much of a bother, really.

      Reply
      • In theory, no. In practice, I’d forget after two sentences, remember a while later, forget again, etc. and I’d have to go back and fix it all later.

      • Yeah, going back and fixing it is a problem. I had to use the find and replace tool over three hundred times on my last edit of a manuscript, just to switch from one space to two… and I might be switching back.

      • That’ll be fun, and not at all a long and boring time-sink! /sarcasm

      • Exactly!

  4. When I think about the “correct” English spacing, I feel insufficient for not using it, but I was taught the French spacing, and it’s a little late to switch now.

    Reply
    • I learned to type with French spacing, then was told to use English spacing, and am now probably going to go back to French. It isn’t that much of a bother to switch.

      Reply
  5. Wow, I never thought I would be interested in a post only about the spacing between sentences. Personally I didn’t even know about English spacing until I was like… Actually, it was probably last year. I taught myself how to type and it’s just easier not to worry about spaces. My computer does that for me if I forget to stick one in between things that need spaces :) So I agree with you. Use technology, we have it so why not? It’s quite convenient but sometimes good smelling, touchable paper is the best way to go.

    Reply
    • So you rely on your spell-check/grammar-check consistently to keep your writing correct? Going with the “We have it, why not use it?” guideline, you’re correct to do so. Huh… It’s funny how I alternately rely on and spurn technology.

      Reply
  6. Alyssa

     /  July 8, 2012

    My mom is always trying to get me to use English spacing. Her perauasion hasn’t worked on me yet, and I don’t think it ever will. I’ve been using Feench spacing since th first time I typed on a computr

    Reply
    • Which was, judging from your spelling, today? Just kidding. It seems that most kids here use French spacing, whereas most of their parents are trying to get them to switch. Interesting… This could be the start of a juvenile rebellion against the older influences. “Kids! Rebel against your parents! Their ideas are old and outdated; just look at how many spaces they put after a period!”

      Reply
  7. Really? We have two typewriters! <3

    Reply
  8. I prefer French-spacing, but I’m not overly fussed. In fact I didn’t even realise that there was an alternative until I read this.

    What I don’t like is when people have no space at all – it makes the full-stop seem kind of like a hyphen.

    Reply
  9. I think I shall stick with the one I already use habitually. So there.

    Reply

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