Knowing Is Half the Battle: Periods, One Space or Two?

Okay, here’s a little copywriting pop quiz for you. Which is correct: One period between sentences or two? If you’re like most people, even many professional copywriters, you’ll answer “two.”

The correct answer is actually “one.” According to who, you may ask? (I’ll discuss who/whom another time, but I can sum it up like this: Never use “whom” unless you’re talking to your great aunt whom is a strict grammarian. Just kidding.)

As Slate’s Farhad Manjoo writes in a much longer article on the subject:

“Every modern typographer agrees on the one-space rule. It’s one of the canonical rules of the profession, in the same way that waiters know that the salad fork goes to the left of the dinner fork and fashion designers know to put men’s shirt buttons on the right and women’s on the left.”

And the one-space rule was decided a long time ago — like way back in the early 20th century. Then you know what happened? The typewriter came along and confused everyone. Messing with the long tradition of standard typesetting, these manual typewriters gave skinny letters (I) less space than fat letters (W) so spacing between sentences was inconsistent and often made text hard to read. Adding an extra space between sentences just made sense, even if it was still technically wrong.

So how come we’re still using that extra space long after anyone even owns a typewriter? Typographers get really worked up over this. A little too worked up. Like typographic consultant Ilene Strizver, who Farhad Manjoo interviewed for his article. I love her quote:

“When I see two spaces I shake my head and I go, Aye yay yay. I talk about ‘type crimes’ often, and in terms of what you can do wrong, this one deserves life imprisonment.”

So now you know. And as G.I. Joe always says, “Knowing is half the battle.” (Yes, the above clip is a parody of one of those videos.) I think the other half is that we actually have to remember to quit hitting the space bar a second time. And vilify/publicly humiliate those who do.

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