Double Space

September 7th, 2013 by Potato

In my last post on what you wanted to see on the blog, Wayfare playfully suggested that I switch to the anachronistic double-space after the period writing style. I am on record as saying that using two spaces after a period in a modern variable-width font (basically all of them) is wrong wrong wrongity-wrongo. It’s so wrong HTML will try to automatically correct that anachronistic habit. You have to manually put in non-breaking spaces to force it to do that (or have your WYSIWYG editor do it for you), which makes weird things happen at line breaks, like leading spaces. Double-spacing after a period is a dark, dark part of our past that we have collectively left behind, and even the most traditional style guide is now embarrassed to even mention it.

Egos were crushed in the flamewar that brought single-keypress variable-spacing standards to the world. You rebel scum disrespect them with your ancient rituals and superstitions. Coming across a mouldy high school teacher that forces double-spacing on her students because “that’s the way [she] was taught” is sad and uncomfortable. There was a point, maybe in the 50’s, where the whole “this is the way we should shape our beautiful and equitable society” idea was still kind of new, so we silently tolerated some backwards beliefs, calling them a personal style, knowing one day the holdouts would fade from this plane. But now, there’s little to no excuse for that behaviour.

Because I have been dealing with it for half the day, Rebel Scum, here is the other problem with your backward double-spacing ways (aside from disharmony): you lose count. People trained to press space bar once after a period are — I find as an editor — pretty damned reliable at putting in one and only one space. 99.9% of the time, they’ve got that trick nailed. Double-spacers form bad habits and inconsistencies slip in — if you add extraneous spaces because the standard variable-width spacing is not enough for you, where does it stop? “Hmm, still doesn’t ‘look right’, needs another space after the period.” Today I was editing a document by someone who is nominally a double-spacer, yet double-spaces were in the minority. About 10% came out as singles. About 30% had an extra space for a triple. Another 20% were quadruples, and nearly 5% were just vast chasms of spaces. The kind of pattern you see when someone likes to absently tap the space bar as they’re trying to think of how to start the next sentence.

That ancient ritual, unwittingly performed: the DecaSpace invoked. I looked into that void today, and saw a possible future past in which all of mankind was swallowed by that emptiness between . and T. That impossible, despairing chasm sucked at my soul, attempting to pull me into the UnContent between words; unravelling the very structure of the document. The blinding, beckoning bright white heart that is the purest essence of writer’s block we will ever see this side of Minesweeper sent its tendrils out to me, feasting on my hopes and dreams, threatening to leave nothing but a glassy-eyed stare and a haunted feeling that I will live the rest of my days with that eerie feeling that the word I need is just on the tip of my tongue.

I escaped (mostly) alive, of course, and corrected the error. Here I am, relating the tale, and in reflection glad not only that the Space Wars brought harmony to the universe, but that it was the single-spacers that won, long before I was old enough to choose a side and know what I had to fight for. Never again do I wish to have such a profound glimpse into the mind of another author through contact that should be as casual as punctuation.

I’m quite tolerant of people’s quirks, and try to work with an author within their own style, merely ensuring that they stay consistent to it. Oxford commas, or not; spaced n-dash or unspaced m-dash; singular they or some other convention, whatever the author chooses. Nevertheless, in my shop double spacing is now an error that gets corrected. No longer will I tolerate the reckless frolicking of these fools who seek to harness powers they do not comprehend, merrily, blindly dancing on the edge of oblivion because their grandparents thought it safe.

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