Sunday, February 13, 2011

Spaced Out

I’m no stranger to the pen and paper.  Or keyboard and monitor.  So imagine my surprise when it came to my attention that it is neither appropriate nor necessary to put two spaces between sentences. 

Now, I’m old enough to remember when neat cursive writing in blue or black ink was a viable alternative to typing.  But as long as I’ve been typing, I’ve been typing two spaces after the end of each sentence.  See?  Two spaces.  

The thing is, I don’t recall actually being taught to type two spaces at the end of each sentence.  Some one along the way must have instructed me to do so, or I wouldn’t be doing it. As Steve, a blogger more eloquent than I put it in his post Double spacing between sentences, my early typing lessons probably sounded something like this:

First shalt thou end each sentence with an appropriate punctuation mark. Then, shalt    thou add two, no more, no less, spaces. Two shalt be the number thou shalt count, and the  number of the counting shall be two. Three shalt thou not count, nor either count thou    one, excepting that thou then proceed to two. Four is right out. Once the number two,    being the second number, be reached, then proceedest  thou to begin a subsequent    sentence.

But it doesn't really matter, since no one bothered to correct me along the way.  I earned a B.A. in English and a J.D. all while ending my sentences with two spaces, with nary a word from anybody.

However, apparently every manual of grammar - MLA Style Manual, Chicago Manual of Style, APA Style - all proclaim that you should put just one space between sentences.  Only the MLA is so forgiving as to state, “As a practical matter, however, there is nothing wrong with using two spaces after concluding punctuation marks unless an instructor or editor requests that you do otherwise.”


So now I’m left with a couple nagging questions....was I doing it wrong all these years, but no one bothered to tell me?  It would be like the writer’s equivalent of having a piece of food stuck between your teeth.

The larger question, though, is this: why the hell does this ruffle my feathers so?  I doubt any one notices how many spaces I type between sentences, much less cares, other than me, my English professors, and my mother the English teacher (hi, Mom!) 

But it does ruffle my feathers.  I don't like this rule.  And I'm not going to follow it.  Which apparently makes me a rebel.  A grammar rebel.  Who makes up her own rules of grammar, a practice I normally despise.

We have rules of grammar for a reason - standardized grammar makes it possible for every one to read and be understood (at least from a language standpoint.)  I don't care whether some one breaks the rules of grammar in informal writing, such as a blog.  Heck, I readily admit I don't follow all the rules of grammar on this blog.

But the double-space rule is extremely relevant in formal writing, where following the rules of grammar counts the most.   And they changed it.



Marianna Annadanna said...

Yeah! Jerks! I learned this a couple of years ago (when someone at work "corrected" me) and I decided right then and there that I, too, would ignore this so called "rule". Solidarity, my friend. Solidarity.

Corinne Miller said...

Ha! Thank God I am not the only one! We must have been taught in school typing class. Im sure I was. I am also refusing to acknowledge this rule. Besides that its like my thumb has a mind of its own and just automatically hits the space bar twice. My thumb and I are standing behind you!

dtgillette said...

FUNNY! Tony and I agree...we are not following this rule. Our thumbs also just automatically hit the space bar twice. LAZINESS I swear!!

Angela@BeggingTheAnswer said...

Glad to hear I'm in such good company!

Angela@BeggingTheAnswer said...


Karen said...

I think those of us that took typing on an actual typewriter learned the two spaces rule. Those that came after us and used computers with word processors learned to do one. I learned to do one when working on newspaper layouts in college and I still do it.