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Wednesday, July 18 12:00 AM ET

BBspot Mailbag

Now you too can enjoy my Inbox without the annoying spam. Every week I get some amazing e-mail. Some amazing because of the sheer cluelessness of the sender, some because of the time and energy that went into crafting them and some are just simply amazing.


The Space Debate

Last week's email about using one space or two after a period, inflamed the passions of many BBspotters. Who knew a topic like that would get everyone riled up? Most people wrote in favor of two spaces, but not everyone...

From: Joshua
Date: Jul 11, 2007 8:01 PM
Subject: 2 spaces
To: Brian Briggs

Your reader's complaint about two spaces after a period betrays his both ignorance and failed potty training.

In fact, either way is correct, depending on the manual of style used at a particular publication. It is only in recent years, with the widespread implementation of the American Psychological Association's (APA) manual of style in graduate schools of education that the strong preference for the single post-period space has come into vogue.

The key is, consistency.

I find it especially ironic that someone who fails to grasp the rudiments of English punctuation (among other marks, commas, colons, and periods /almost always/ go /inside/ a terminal quotation mark, and the AP preference for final serial comma is confusing, especially when used by a writer with poor fluency) and capitalization would feel free to criticize an author he claims to enjoy. Judging by his name and his claim to not "know the english phrase" for his feelings, I'm guessing this guy is the sort of misguided, arrogant Eurotrash who thinks that only way to do a thing is the way taught under his fascist system of education.

That last, of course, will result in someone trotting out the tired arguments about which is more correct, British or American usage. All I'm saying is that European systems of education brought us the Nazi war machine. The American system and its inconsistent spacing after periods ended it. Maybe those on the continent should worry more about how their refusal to procreate will affect an already crumbling collection of welfare nanny states, and spend less time laying eggs over an extra space.

And...

From: Phorm
Date: Jul 11, 2007 10:28 AM
Subject: Two Spaces
To: Brian Briggs

I wouldn't say it aggravates me, but I think it looks ignorant.

From the Chicago Manual of Style.

And...

From: Steve
Date: Jul 11, 2007 1:07 AM
Subject:
To: Brian Briggs <briggsb@bbspot.com>

I just can't get away from two spaces after a period, either. It just...feels right. It looks cleaner, when you're used to it. If Kerning makes everything nicer, then that just means my double spaces are even extra efficient.

I did look up Karsten's Google recommendation, and it was far from unanimous. As if Google decides right and wrong for us anyways. I seem to recall George W Bush winning a "Google fight", but that's been far from unanimous either. :)

May I suggest that a good satire article could arise from the ashes of this spacing issue?

And...

From: John
Date: Jul 17, 2007 8:19 PM
Subject: Re Mailbag of the 11th of July
To: briggsb@bbspot.com

I have deplored you use of the double space following periods for some time now. I can barely contain my disgust at this practice. In my opinion perpetrators of this blot on good style should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. A good reason to support capital punishment.

And...

From: Jamie
Date: Jul 11, 2007 8:35 AM
Subject: Two Cents about Two Spaces
To: Brian Briggs

Hi Brian,

I always put a double space after a full-stop (or period), unless I'm writing a text message and, thus, paying more if I go over a certain number of characters.

Until reading the Mailbag page today, I didn't realise that anyone would do anything differently. I've always found that it makes a paragraph look clearer and it annoys me when people only use one space. I like my sentences to be removed from one-another, and I will go so far as to put carriage-returns between each sentence in emails.

Anyway, keep up the two-spaces!!

And...

From: Mark
Date: Jul 11, 2007 9:09 AM
Subject: Stupid Spaces
To: Brian Briggs

ack.

A million years ago, or so, I learned to operate a digital Linotype machine. With it came the rules and conventions of typography, part of which were the international, ancient, and possibly mystic agreement of how much space to insert between sentences, whether ending with a period, question or exclamation mark, or ellipses, and after colons (or a closed quotation). I knew exactly in microns the size of an Em-space and an El-space. Man, those were heady times.

Anyway... presumably thanks to Gutenberg, a "double space" is the agreed upon amount of nothing. When we learned to type, the same conventions were applied to letters and forms and other things done upon a typewriter, and later a word processor, and finally any text editor including email clients. HTML is a nightmare, of course. Even with Style Sheets. Remembering the code for an Em-space is usually a good idea.

Some day I might bother to Goober "two spaces", but that seems like an even bigger waste of time than replying to this putz. In the meantime, the putz might want to research the rules of typography.

And...

From: Scott
Date: Jul 11, 2007 10:00 AM
Subject: Two freaking spaces after the period
To: Brian Briggs

I have to respond to Karsten's e-mail in your mailbag. As you can see from this e-mail I was brought up using two spaces after the period, and it is especially important for anything you do on a computer (excluding word/other items which will be printed) as e-mails/web pages/news postings can and will be viewed with applications which use fixed sized fonts. Not only can I override your fonts in my web browser, but I may look at bbspot with lynx (console based Unix web browser). Unless you're taking a screen shot of each story and then posting the picture, there is no guarantee of a proportional font and thus the extra space is very helpful.

That said, I'm sure someone will argue that the minority is so small that they aren't worth catering too. While my first reaction to that is bite me (as I'm part of that minority from time to time), the more thoughtful approach is to say, what's the big deal with two spaces even with proportional fonts? The argument given by the first link in the Google search said it could create "'rivers' of blank spots in the body text." I would assert that these rivers can easily be changed/fixed to the user's liking by simply resizing their browser window.

Some may ask why get up in arms about this, well I'm a programmer and as a programmer I value proper spacing. Not only does it help readability on any computer, but it also gives a better parsing format. (I can use a regular expression like /\.[)'"]?(\s\s|$)/ to split text into an array of sentences.) Finally, while I'm composing this e-mail in a web browser window with proportional fonts, you will actually get two versions of this e-mail. One with HTML (proportional fonts, etc.) and one without (courier new, fixed column width) and your e-mail reader will pick the right one for you. Using Thunderbird you can see this by selecting message source from the view menu.

Keep doing what you're used to and don't let those printing press zealots influence your electronic formating. (I mean if they feel so strongly, there's the expression to find the double space. They can write a Greasemonkey script to fix it, and anyone claiming that they can't or it is too hard probably doesn't really understand the problems with electronic formatting anyways.)

Remember, the only way the publishing zealots win is if we lose our resolve.

And finally...

From: Stephen
Date: Jul 14, 2007 4:32 AM
Subject: n Spaces for Smart People
To: Brian Briggs

You wrote:

Unfortunately, I learned to type on a typewriter, so the two spaces after a period is deeply ingrained in me. Does this topic aggravate anybody else this much?

The real solution is not to retrain people. It's difficult to do this anyway with so many people typing in variable-width fonts, where it's hard to spot extra/missing spaces.

Instead, people like Karsten who care about this topic should advocate editors and typesetters that, in normal mode, ignore the number of spaces you type, and instead insert the "right" amount of space. TeX does this, for example; it knows that a space after a period is a little bigger than one hspace, but a little smaller than two.

There are many other typesetting rules like this (related to colons, quotation marks, parentheses, &c) that have little hope of becoming general knowledge, so should be implemented in the editor/typesetting language.


Weekly Limerick

The winner of the 2003 and 2006 Geek Limerick contest has volunteered to write a weekly limerick for BBspot...

From: Seth

Harry Potter will soon be completed.
Will Lord Voldemort then be defeated?
 And who dies? Is it Ron?
 Will Hermoine be gone?
Here's the truth: [censored] killed by [deleted]

 

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