People Who Type Two Spaces After a Period Just Can’t Win
Two-spacers say the extra room after a sentence is easier on the eyes, but the one-spacers keep gaining ground
By James HookwayJune 3, 2020 11:52 am ET
Ever since computers displaced typewriters, a rift has grown between people who put two spaces after a period and people who put one. Duane Daiker worries he might be on the losing side.
Mr. Daiker, a lawyer in Tampa, Fla., brought Mignon Fogarty, author of the bestselling “Grammar Girl” books, onto his law-themed podcast in March to settle the matter once and for all. He hoped she would rule in favor of two spaces, as he had been taught in high school.
Instead, Ms. Fogarty predicted that placing two spaces after a period would die out in 10 to 20 years.
“I’ll have to decide whether or not to leave this on the podcast, right?” replied Mr. Daiker, who is 50, on the recording.
Two-spacers have fretted for some time they are losing ground to one-spacers who learned to type in the digital age. Jennifer Bell, a 19-year-old student from Columbus, Ohio, summed up the counterargument: “It looks ridiculous.”
Putting two spaces after a period made sense in the mechanical age, when the letters produced by typewriters were all the same width. With a single space at the end of a sentence, the page looked a little cramped. Legal professionals who regularly wade through dense documents loaded with citations are among the loudest proponents.
In these digital days, different letters have variable widths, making words and sentences easier to read. The AP and the Chicago Manual of Style both say one space is sufficient. The Wall Street Journal switched from two spaces to one in its print edition decades ago. Last year the American Psychological Association ruled in favor of a single space in its widely followed style guide for academic papers.
A further setback to two-spacers came in April.
Alan Chen was sitting at home in Denver typing when he noticed something he hadn’t seen before. The document he was working on flagged as an error the two spaces he customarily leaves after a period.
“The one spacers have won,” Mr. Chen tweeted.
After deeming either one or two spaces as acceptable for years, Microsoft recently changed the default setting in Word so that two spaces after a period summons the annoying blue squiggle indicating an error.
Mr. Chen’s discovery went viral. “It’s interesting,” he said. “You’d think people would have more to worry about during a pandemic.”
Kirk Gregersen, partner director of program management at Microsoft, acknowledged not all writers will appreciate the stylistic choice. So Microsoft added the option for users to tweak their settings so that two spaces don’t get flagged.
Judge Beth Walker, 55 years old, of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, said she would change her settings. She said she is tired of being shamed by millennials who she said insist on rushing from sentence to sentence.
“I suspect that Microsoft’s latest salvo will only unite the commitment of #TeamTwoSpace,” she said. “To the extent necessary, I will alter any and all automatic settings they attempt to impose.”
The camps often form along generational lines.
“I was taught in high school to type with two spaces after a period and that’s how I will continue,” said Lou Mulligan, who graduated from high school in the 1990s and is now a law professor at the University of Kansas. “Two spaces follows a period like night follows day.”
Some two-spacers point to a study published in 2018 by three psychology researchers at Skidmore College. The team placed sensors on the heads of 60 volunteers to monitor where they were looking as they read various texts. The subjects who naturally typed two spaces after a period—around a third of the sample—found two-space paragraphs easier to read. For the rest, the impact was neutral. So looking across the population on average, proponents say, two spaces should win.
Sarah Lahlou-Amine entered the fray last June when, as chair of the Appellate Practice Section of the Florida Bar, she printed off two sets of stickers for members to declare their loyalty at an annual conference. One set advocated for #TeamTwoSpace, while the other backed #TeamOneSpace.
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“The nice thing about the stickers is that they got people who otherwise might have sat on the sidelines to engage in this friendly feud, if only by putting on a sticker and maybe letting us post a picture of them on social media to declare their side,” she said.
Nick Shannin, the current chair, said, “#TeamTwoSpace was the more popular sticker choice amongst us appellate lawyers” by about 2-to-1.
Other two-spacers have distributed fridge magnets and bumper stickers attesting to the righteousness of their cause. They cheered when they found out that the Mueller report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was written with two spaces after the period.
Mr. Daiker, who brought up the issue on his podcast, argued that ample space around sentences is just as important now with people reading more material on screens.
“We have to get across that while the practice of using two spaces may have originated due to the mechanical limitations of typewriters, there are very real advantages that remain valid and important today,” said Mr. Daiker.
Ms. Fogarty, the author, wasn’t swayed. “I don’t think two-spacers will have much long-term success fighting both prevailing standards and the general ubiquity of one-space writing,” she wrote in a one-spaced email.
There might be some consolation for Mr. Daiker and many other two-spacers in Ms. Fogarty’s prediction that it would take one or two decades for the one-spacers to claim victory.
“I’ll be retired by then so I won’t have to worry about it anymore,” Mr. Daiker said.