One Space or Two?

I always wondered what it would feel like to know the world has passed me by.

The first taste I had of this was in the 90’s when Flava Flav came up to the stage at the MTV awards with an alarm clock dangling from his neck. (???)

Then there was the time when the rise on jeans halved, and I had to make a decision–continue to eke a few more years out of my acid-washed mom-jeans or swish around town with my gut souffle-ing gloriously around me.

But more recently, there have been the space wars (too strong?), the debates over whether there should be two spaces after a period or one.

Now being of a certain age (and an English teacher), I usually favor the traditionalists and sometimes even the pragmatists–I continue to use the past perfect, the subjunctive mood, and (since my emigration) have even come to accept the Oxford comma, but this, latest kerfuffle over the appropriate number of spaces after a period has left me bewildered (and even a little who-cares-ish).

Now for those of you who are not of a certain age, not English teachers, and/or who have taken up permanent residence in Who-cares-ish-land, let me give you a quick rundown.

For most of (our living) history, the “correct” number of spaces after a period has been two–Period, space, space, Capital-letter-new-word.

This was a convention adopted to distinguish between word boundaries (only one space between words) and sentence boundaries (two spaces between sentences). A sort of ease-of-use kind of device that allows the eyes to quickly scan a page and read in sentence-chunks, rather than word-for-word.

So far so good.

Then comes along the computer (that usurper!) and its handy-dandy (lazy!) word-processor, and bam! Everything this good nation (founding fathers!) stands for, is now under threat!!!

I have no idea why, but the computer (and its handy dandy word-processor), in direct insubordination to English teachers everywhere, chose to go rogue and adopt a single-space-after-periods convention.

Quelle horreur!!!

Now I know I’ll get a lot of flak about taking this (irreverent) position, but hear me out for a minute.

This is nothing new.

We have been resisting change (most vociferously when it threatens our privileged position) for years, millennia.

Don’t believe me?

Just ask the classical Greeks.

Did you know, for instance, that writing (yes pen and paper writing) was once considered a vile and base threat to the (elevated) art (and elite fixture) of oration?

True story.

Back in the (Plato) day, writing was considered to be “inhuman”–a pretense, an approximation outside the mind of that which can only be in the mind. It was thought to be an “intrusion” in much the same way that computers were thought to be an intrusion when they first came out. It was the stuff of mere merchants and other lesser members of society. Practical. Distancing. Destructive.

Those Platonists held on to their oral tradition with a death grip.

Yet today the roles have been completely reversed: Writing is now the big dog and speaking its bitch.

So yes, there was a time (and good reason) for the two-space sentence boundary, but that time has passed.

Also, we have bigger fish to fry.

Of all the things we have left by the wayside, post-period spaces will not (I feel certain) augur another fall of Rome.

But here are some other usurpers that, I fear, just might:

  1. Not returning grocery carts to their designated parking spot.

  2. Booty shorts. Or their country cousins, the pocket-showing cut-offs.

  3. Drinking milk straight from the carton.

  4. Kale.

  5. The Church of Scientology.

  6. _______ Kardashian. Your choice.

  7. Thai barbecue chicken pizza.

  8. Furry porn.

  9. And with your spirit!

  10. Oh, and Bradley Cooper, you ain’t no Kris Kristofferson!



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Categories: On Writing

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4 replies

  1. You had me laughing at the picture of Flava Flav and the exposed soufflé. I was hoping for a Flava Flav photo thought 🙂

  2. Kale and “And With Your Spirit” are a greater source of irritation to me than the two space after the period thing, but dang–it is so HARD to unlearn what got drilled into my head (and hands) in Mr. Jones’s 7th grade typing class!

    • Kale and “And with your spirit” should be done NOW. The pipe should come or and say, JK, we made a mistake, back to “And also with you.” And if he can get that done, kale will be a cinch.

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