My co-worker Charles looked over his glasses at me, Aunt-Polly style, after reading my grant application. “It’s good,” he said, “except we’ll have to change all the double spaces at the ends of sentences to single spaces.” I asked him why, and he gave me an indulgent look. “It’s the rule,” he said simply.
I suppose Charles was thinking of the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, “[a] single character space, not two spaces, should be left after periods at the ends of sentences.” This pronouncement, however, is the typographical equivalent of “We have always been at war with Eastasia.” I was taught two spaces in my high school typing class. The keys on those Reagan-era IBM Selectrics had been painted over to encourage memorization, then automation. I remember them as surely as I remember my teacher’s macaw-like nose, her mop-handle legs and her can’t-shake-this-chest-cold voice.
When did the spacing rule change? And why? Who, outside Orwell’s Ministry of Truth, has that kind of authority, anyway? Most important, how come nobody told me?
Until the 19th century, most publishers used a letter- width space between words but a larger one, called an “em space,” between sentences. Notable exceptions were French publishers, who used regular spaces everywhere. This came to be known as “French spacing.” Things changed in the 1870s when the typewriter, invented in 1808 by the Italian Pellegrino Turri, began to be mass-produced. Typewriters have only one spacing option, the letter-width, which people felt was too scant to separate sentences. Their response: double, or “English,” spacing.
Computers brought about the next change. They can vary spaces between characters to achieve a uniform look, making it unnecessary to tap-tap the space bar. These days, double spacing is a recipe for ridicule. Ilene Strizver writes in Upper and lowercase Magazine (there is a magazine for everything!): “Forget about tolerating differences of opinion: Typographically speaking, typing two spaces before the start of a new sentence is absolutely, unequivocally wrong.”
So I’m unequivocally wrong. OK by me.
I am not a Luddite— I write with a Dell laptop—nor am I lazy. I just refuse to relearn something I’ve done more or less without thinking for 23 years. It is sometimes a comfort not to think, not to be pressed on all sides by the world. We live in crowded cities, ride crowded buses, eat in crowded restaurants—and these are just the physical spaces. In “Hamlet’s BlackBerry,” William Powers writes that our inner space is lousy, as well, with Facebook, e-mail, texts,Tweets and other cyber boggarts. In a world where my teenage daughter leans out of the shower to answer a text, Powers argues for more “quiet” and “spacious” places “where the mind can wander free.”
Yes. My quiet, spacious place is my writing—so long as I double space after sentences. Single spacing means more characters, which means more words, words I didn’t intend, words the piece doesn’t need. Writers often say more through silence than through talk. Besides, if I keep double spacing, what’s the worst that can happen? No editor has turned me down yet because of it. (I mean, editors have turned me down—enough to staff the Democratic National Convention, I suppose. But I doubt it’s because of my double spaces.) Writing is my space, my only me-only turf in the world. I’ll be damned if I cut any more of it.