Saturday, January 15, 2011

Are You a Double-Spacer?

image lifted from
You've probably seen this article in Slate: the author works up quite a lather about people who still put two spaces after a period. I was all set to defend the double space--sentimental old Luddite that I am--but then I looked at some writing I did recently and was vaguely surprised to see that I apparently dropped the double space a while ago. Maybe I knew at some level that computers do proportional spacing, so there isn't a need. Also, laziness.

What's most interesting about the article is the author's barely concealed rage. What's that all about? Hatred of the young for the old? Because most people really stuck in the double-space thing are older. Those of who took typing classes or had tough old English teachers or who worked as secretaries got the double space thrashed into us, and there's no one around to thrash it back out.

But yeah, who needs it anymore? Let's save a calorie or two and create manuscripts--or blog posts--that look like type-set type.

But again: what's with the anger? Who cares? Blogger, for example, apparently nixes the double space anyway, and certainly if you're writing for publication, the copy editor will take care of it, along with all your dumb mistakes. The average email is hardly a thing of beauty that will be marred by an extra space here and there.

(This is probably not the place to bring this up, but why is there so much misplaced anger these days? Tea Party, yeah, I mean you.)

I have a little more sympathy for people who obsess about grammar and usage: there's an argument to be made that persistent errors of usage actually degrade the language. But typography has never been the concern of writers. That's what printers are for.

Here's something to get mad about: word processing programs that automatically put a white space after every paragraph. THAT IS WRONG! AND BAD! Look at a novel--are there spaces after every paragraph? No, there are not. Sometimes there are white spaces, but those are deliberate and have meaning. Some kinds of non-fiction, I guess journalism, put a white space after each paragraph (I'm doing it now!), but why can't people who want it just hit the return key? Okay, that's enough of that.


chris said...

that photo is infinitely disturbing

gvNL said...

I so agree. All these stories downloaded from the web
with forced white spaces - it's like taking rests from music.

"No iron can pierce the heart with such force as a white space just at the right place." (freely paraphrasing Carver)

jon said...

I gave up those two spaces kicking and screaming, but once it's done, it's done. But the space between paragraphs drives me absolutely nuts. It seems to be a symbol for the intrusion of the market into every aspect of life. The space between paragraphs makes everything look like business correspondence, and it's all WORD. We default to business in everything: politics, education, art...
Meanwhile, Usage is out the fucking window! But usage is actually important. I read an interesting article on CNN about the discovery of the oldest winery in Armenia, dated to 4,000 BCE. Three times the author refers to the 'distillation' of wine. Wasn't there an editor who knew that wine is FERMENTED, not DISTILLED? Distillation wasn't invented until thousands of years later.
At least you can change WORD (painfully) to get rid of that double space, but Wordpress sticks it back in. Every poem I post online is ruined by double spaces.

Anonymous said...

That's a major drag about Wordpress. I find the spaces between paragraphs to be really annoying, and even my graduate students have real problems finding where in their word processors to get rid of it. I actually have somewhere in my teaching archives a short guide to removing it in both Word and OpenOffice. The extras space after periods are easily removed by a quick search-and-replace, if you're an editor and it REALLY bothers you, but this thing is a harder disease to cure.

I recently started with Scrivnener and was appalled that it inserts 8-point spaces between paragraphs by default. It was really hard to remove them, too.

I believe this started with Word 97. I don't understand it AT ALL.

As for online writing, unindented paragraphs with with a couple of "br" tags between them seem to be the norm...I suppose I don't really mind this. But the bastards should not be messing with my printed paragraphs.

Bryan said...

As far as WordPress goes, you can get rid of that extra paragraph space by pressing Shift+Enter every time you wanna do a paragraph break instead of the standard Enter.

But wait...double spacing after periods is bad? What have I been doing with my life!?!?

Anne R. Allen said...

The author of that article in Slate reminds me of the people who go into fits because the toilet paper has been put in the holder the WRONG WAY! Which is the opposite of the way I do it!! I'm offended!!! Why can't everybody be just like me!!!?

When typing in Courier--which is required for scriptwriting--two spaces are standard. When typing in TNR, not so much. It looks a little awkward.

But if that's the biggest problem this person has to worry about, she should consider herself very blessed indeed.

gvNL said...

taking rests from music - christ! Removing rests from musical compositions. (Not taking a well deserved break to recover from the endless and ubiquitous diarrhoea of musical wallpaper intended to uplift us but having the opposite effect of driving us to near suicide.)

5 Red Pandas said...

John, I found that guide you wrote useful. Especially the instructions on how to remove the white space in Word!

I'm always surprised how geeked out people get about typography. I guess I rarely think about it, or at the very least have a hard time becoming passionate over it. In the case of white space, there is a real purpose to it, so I suspect that the author at Slate feels the same way about the spacing in sentences. It messes with the flow of the typography, which is probably as valid an argument as the one about white spaces.

I used a typewriter in high school but I did a poor job at it because my teacher scrawled "go to typing school!" over the top of my papers. I imagine I didn't do the double-space after periods and further infuriated him. It's funny in retrospect but I miss the fact that teachers could get all hard-ass about things like formatting. At least in my experience the least of your worries is formatting, but rather whether the sentences are anywhere near coherent. I actually get excited when I hear a teacher demanding proper citation and works cited pages when I help them teach research skills.

The combination of finally getting a computer and all those temp jobs out of college made me a better typist.

P.S.- How did you get rid of the white space in Scrivener? I will probably start using it soon and don't want an excuse to tinker around instead of actually composing.

Anonymous said...

Pandas, to get rid of the paragraph spaces in Scrivener, go to Preferences > Formatting, then click on the line spacing dropdown on the little mockup ruler, hit the "spacing..." tab, then set both paragraph before and after to 0.0.

Complicated, eh? There should just be a button marked SANITY on the toolbar that does this!

JTL said...

I hate the double space for some reason. I know it remains as a vestigial norm from the early days of typesetting, but I've had young students (born in the eighties and early nineties) who double space. How did that happen. I broke myself of the double space years ago. Hmmm.

And hey, I use Scivener too.Also took out the space after. Good program though. I haven't been using it for this most recent book because I'm bouncing back and forth between PC and Mac these days. Really glad they're coming out with a PC version next month.

Jim said...

In word, if you are a die hard double spacer, as I am, and it really bugs your publisher, you can actually search and replace double spaces with single using the search and replace feature.

Also, there is no misplaced anger in the Tea Party. Nicest bunch of people I've ever met. Head out to any "Social Justice" rally to see irrational rage and misplaced anger.

Anonymous said...

Don't blame Word for adding space after paragraphs. Blame HTML (look at "Ward Six"). Word can be endlessly customized. Yes, Microsoft plays the game of trying to anticipate, with each new release, what "most users" will want, but we writers and editors should at the very least learn about all this stuff. (Thank God there's no malpractice for us!) What it comes down to is consistency—for example, the consistent use of extra space after periods in the first edition of "Leaves of Grass" (see; note not only the extra space after periods but also the spaces BEFORE certain marks of punctuation [very European]).