the great spaces-after-a-period controversy

A few months ago, Farhad Manjoo of Slate got a lot of attention — well, in my Twitter feed anyway — by writing a post telling us “Why you should never, ever use two spaces after a period.” Why? Because “Typing two spaces after a period is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong. The case he makes is largely historical — but guess what? Manjoo’s history is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong:

Unfortunately, this whole story is a fairy tale, made up by typographers to make themselves feel like they are correct in some absolute way.  The account is riddled with historical fabrication.  Here are some facts:

  • There were earlier standards before the single-space standard, and they involved much wider spaces after sentences.
  • Typewriter practice actually imitated the larger spaces of the time when typewriters first came to be used.  They adopted the practice of proportional fonts into monospace fonts, rather than the other way around.
  • Literally centuries of typesetters and printers believed that a wider space was necessary after a period, particularly in the English-speaking world.  It was the standard since at least the time that William Caslon created the first English typeface in the early 1700s (and part of a tradition that went back further), and it was not seriously questioned among English or American typesetters until the 1920s or so.
  • The “standard” of one space is maybe 60 years old at the most, with some publishers retaining wider spaces as a house style well into the 1950s and even a few in the 1960s.
  • As for the “ugly” white space, the holes after the sentence were said to make it easier to parse sentences.  Earlier printers had advice to deal with the situations where the holes became too numerous or looked bad.
  • The primary reasons for the move to a single uniform space had little to do with a consensus among expert typographers concerning aesthetics.  Instead, the move was driven by publishers who wanted cheaper publications, decreasing expertise in the typesetting profession, and new technology that made it difficult (and sometimes impossible) to conform to the earlier wide-spaced standards.
  • The lies do not just come from random Slate writers or bloggers, but also established typographers, who seem to refuse the clear evidence that they could easily see if they examine the majority of books printed before 1925 or so.  Even an authority like Robert Bringhurst is foolish enough not to do his research before claiming that double spacing is a “quaint Victorian habit” that originated in the “dark and inflationary age in typography” of the (presumably mid to late) nineteenth century.

I love history. Real history, like this, not fake history, like Farhad Manjoo’s. Still: I hate seeing two spaces after a period (as in the very post I am quoting). An unhistorical judgment, but my own.

get your paper here!

Farhad Manjoo on what’s good about reading actual newspapers:

But both versions of the Kindle are missing what makes print newspapers such a perfect delivery vehicle for news: graphic design. The Kindle presents news as a list—you're given a list of sections (international, national, etc.) and, in each section, a list of headlines and a one-sentence capsule of each story. It's your job to guess, from the list, which pieces to read. This turns out to be a terrible way to navigate the news. Every newspaper you've ever read was put together by someone with an opinion about which of the day's stories was most important. Newspapers convey these opinions through universal, easy-to-understand design conventions—they put important stories on front pages, with the most important ones going higher on the page and getting more space and bigger headlines. You can pick up any page of the paper and—just by reading headlines, subheads, and photo captions—quickly get the gist of several news items. Even when you do choose to read a story, you don't have to read the whole thing. Since it takes no time to switch from one story to another, you can read just a few paragraphs and then go on to something else.

Those of you who thought I was uncritically admiring of the Kindle earlier — by the way, you should really go back and read all my Kindle-tagged posts — will now think that I’m slamming it. But not at all: I post, you decide. About the Kindle, as about other matters, I’m fair, balanced, and unafraid.

against Facebook fascism

I was a reasonably early adopter of Facebook — after it was opened to people as old as I am — though I can’t remember precisely when I got on board. But I do remember that I lasted about six months before I shut down my account. The only thing I liked about Facebook was the status updates; everything else seemed to be way too much trouble, especially dealing with friend requests. So when I discovered that Twitter was out there, doing status updates only, I traded down and have never looked back. Now Farhad Manjoo shows up to tell me, first, that “there is no longer any good reason to avoid Facebook” and that all of the reasons people give for refusing it are bogus. He even goes so far as to suggest that it is ethically unacceptable not to have an active Facebook account:

But what about your old fling, your new fling, your next employer, or that friend-of-a-friend you just met at a party who says he can give you some great tips on your golf swing? Sure, you can trade e-mail addresses or phone numbers, but in many circles Facebook is now the expected way to make these connections. By being on Facebook, you’re facilitating such ties; without it, you’re missing them and making life difficult for those who went looking for you there.

So I have some sort of obligation to make it easier for people to get in touch with me? — to match my life to the “expected way to make connections”? That seems like a philosophically suspect claim to me, but maybe I missed the social-web section of the Kritik der praktischen Vernunft. I’m tempted to launch into a rant about how this is one more assault in American culture’s apparently unceasing war against introverts, but I’ll spare you that. Instead I’ll just point out that while Manjoo responds to a number of reasons for not using Facebook, he never mentions mine: I’m not freaking interested.