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How Many Spaces After a Period? Ending the Debate The World's Greatest Book Posted on by Dave Bricker January 27, Few subjects arouse more passion among writers and designers than the debate over how many spaces should follow a period. Chicago and MLA specify one—debate ended—but the popular arguments in support of the single-space after a period arguments I must confess to having perpetuated in previous writings turn out to be mostly apocryphal.
This article surveys book typography from the s to the present. The survey is small and the examples come from various publishers in different parts of the world, but the trends revealed are, at least, a catalyst for deeper exploration.
One Space After a Period: The Mythology The typewriter came of age during the late 19th century. The mechanism relied on gears that advanced the carriage a single gear tooth each time a key was pressed. This means that a letter i occupied as much paper as a letter w; non-proportional typefaces were developed to close gaps that would be more obvious if a traditional typeface was used.
Still, there was no way to nest letters into one another. Proponents of the single-space argue that digital typefaces have appropriate spacing already built into each letterform.
The argument for the single-space sounds compelling. But though the supposed history is logical, book designers and printers were using proportional typefaces and wide spaces long before the typewriter entered the scene.
Moreover, the choice of whether or not to use a double-space on a typewriter was always, itself, a matter of style and convention. A period typed on a typewriter will print on the left side of the space and leave plenty of room to the right before the next sentence begins.
The non-proportional digital typeface argument is an interesting distraction that ultimately fails to either support or discourage use of the double-space. Two Spaces After a Period: A Typographic Tradition A brief note on terminology: The following examples show that traditional typesetters without typewriters used the double-space—actually an emspace—as a convention early on.
Apparently, a number of typographic elements have been subject to stylistic evolution over the centuries. The subject matter is also of interest.
Figure 3 Figure 3 shows the styles to be unchanged. Figure 4 Figure 4 offers no surprises. The wide spaces after periods continue. Clearly this style is no passing fad. When did things change? Figure 5 Figure 5 shows the wide space after a period to be alive and well during the Victorian period. Notice the interesting hyphenation green of a word which is now compound.
Figure 6 Figure 6 jumps ahead to Figure 7 Figure 7, a Spanish book cover back from shows the wide space and an unusual comma after the emdash. The space before the first emdash is also unusual.
Figure 8 Figure 8 is from a book by the poet, E. Though the poet was known to take typographical liberties, this looks like straightforward use of the double-space. Figure 9 And then, inthings begin to change figure 9.
A wider survey will likely reveal the style change taking place over several years and at different times in different places, but I found no examples of single-spaces being used after periods prior to Figure 10 Figures 10 and 11 and respectively are notable because the type is featured on graphic design journals of that time, suggesting that the design community had accepted the single-space as a standard.
Could it be that the single-space was adopted by the book industry as a paper-saving measure? Though it existed as early as the midth century, the paperback book turned literature into a mass-market commodity during the s. Publishers developed huge distribution chains that required print runs of tens of thousands of books; type size shrank along with leading line spacing and page margins.
Mass-deployment by the publishing industry would explain the rapid acceptance of a spacing design that ran contrary to centuries of tradition.
Single-space or double-space After a Period? The adoption of that standard by major style manuals more or less codifies the single-space into law.
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