Type Crimes

As those who work with me soon find out, I have particularly strong feelings about certain aspects of the written page. To fail to use ‘smart quotes’, for example, is a particularly grievous crime in my book, and so I expect conformity. And, of course, there is the matter of where to put the comma after a quote.

I’m also bothered by the ‘two-space’ offense. I rarely correct this in others, but I have a macro which searches for places in my documents where I’ve inadvertently typed two spaces between sentences and replaces them with a more aesthetically appealing single space. I confess.

This, apparently, is not a passion held solely my me. Recently I’ve seen a few references to this as being a lively contemporary debate. Historians will note the hot topics of 2011: health care, “don’t ask/don’t tell”, the Iraq/Afghanistan conflict, and the ‘single-space’ standard.

The case for the single space is made in this recent article in Slate.

The author makes a good point. In these days of proportional fonts and computer typography, one space is all that is needed between sentences. That is why all major style manuals recommend it. There is really no need to argue further.

But apparently I’m dead wrong on that last statement. That one would write an article attacking the two-spacers and have it published in a major on-line magazine is surprising enough. That that article would in ten days time generate 2227 comments is astonishing.

Who said that post-moderns don’t argue absolutes?!


UPDATE: When researching this controversy (I’m hopeless. Let’s all face that fact and learn to live with it.) I stumbled across this from a “two-spacer”. A point of agreement between us, it seems:

If you see me “making mistakes with comma placement”, please rest assured that I’m doing it deliberately. In most cases the comma doesn’t belong to the phrase delimited by the quotation marks that enclose it. Placing an exclamation point or question mark to the left or right of a close-quote is a weighty decision! That we violate the atomic purity of quotations with injected commas is an outrage.

Preach it, brother. Just preach it with single spaces, please.

11 thoughts on “Type Crimes

  1. I stumbled upon the single vs. double space controversy last week and was astonished! I was taught (in typing class) to use double spaces, and they were in use when I was a book editor immediately after graduating from college. It is a difficult habit to break. However, I will bow to current practice on this.

    Comma placement is another matter altogether. I agree with the author quoted above. And I will continue to be rebellious on this one!

  2. Mike

    When you figure out a way to train these middle-aged thumbs to stop their well practiced ‘tap – tap’ post period, I will concede and conform. Until then, there is asolutely nothing I can do to help you. Fortunately, in standard HTML, any number of spaces typed results as a single space. You will never see the three double spaces in this post and I am off the hook!

  3. I’m inherently lazy. If a sermon is, say, 4000 words, that is, lets say, 400 sentences, just to make the math easy. The difference between one two spaces is 400 key strokes. If I write 50 sermons/year, that is 20,000 key strokes. If I do that for forty years, that is nearly 1 million key strokes. And that is just sermons. If each keystroke sends an impulse of electricity, just think of the amount of energy saved.

    Go green. Train your thumbs. 🙂

  4. Mike

    I am more a creature of habit than I am inherently lazy. (People who know me would argue I am equally both.) I will remain a double spacer. I actually think it’s easier to read, but that’s a whole other argument.

    Pray for me, Reverend.

    P.S. I 10-key by touch proficiently. Surely that exonerates me?

  5. Connie

    Hopeless. Yes, hopeless.

    A word for double-spacers: While submitting papers for a writing course I once took, my paper would be bloodied if I single-spaced between sentences. However, I have since been forced to change this habit due to counsel given me by my college-aged children. When asked to proof a finished paper on their behalf, I would make comment on their need to double-space between sentences. That, I was told, was outdated editing advise. Sigh. What’s a mother to do? On the other hand, a writer can do whatever they want!

  6. Jeff

    Randy, I agree with you on the smart quotes and the two-spaces issue, but really, putting commas after closing quotation marks? You do realize you are going against both the Chicago manual and Strunk & White on this one, right?

  7. Eva

    You think the double-space issue is controversial. You should hear the outrage caused by the new grammar books that teach children where to place the apostrophe after plural possessive nouns. The grammar book I used in Virginia–from a very established educational publisher–is now teaching children that all possessive singular nouns–even those ending in ‘s’–should be followed by an ‘s. Therefore, we would no longer write “James’ book,” but rather “James’s book.” The one exception to this rule printed in the grammar book? Jesus. Anything owned by Jesus should still be written Jesus’.

    And, as I go to send this, my husband the editor is telling me that this is not a new rule, it’s always been this way, and most people have just learned it incorrectly. Apparently James’s is and always has been the correct way–even though my computer is carving angry red zig-zags under it every time I write it. So now the question becomes, why is it different for Jesus???

  8. I am a smarter man than you might have assumed. I will NOT step into the middle of a family feud. You guys duke that one out.

    I will say to Jeff, though, that I am FULLY aware that the quote issue is outside the bounds of the style manuals for American publications. Wisdom and good sense are sometimes found elsewhere!

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