Yesterdays rant on writing received some interesting responses. One was from a writer friend and colleague Erin Brown Conroy. She succinctly explained the “why” behind the space issue in present day print. We banter back and forth about the quirks of writing. Below is a copy/pasted e-mail, raw, unedited, but used with permission. I found this fascinating. I am always curious about the “why” behind what is the norm of the times. Maybe you do too.
“Now, at the risk of you feeling that I’m doing my teacher thing (I so hope you don’t see it as that…it’s more of a friend, “hey, did you know?” kind of thing)…I thought I’d share with you what I know re: the meaning of the two spaces. Just thought you might want to know, in the long run. If not, treat this as a bunch of mindless trivia that you can delete at your whim, from both the page and the brain. So, here goes.
When we used typewriters many moons ago, typewriters had Courier font. In Courier font, the spacing of each letter is the exact same, regardless of the shape of the letter. Therefore, when you typed an “i” next to another “i,” “l,” or otherwise-skinny letter, it created more space/visual gap between the letters (as opposed to typing two “a” or “o” letters next to each other, which tended to hug each other more closely…best buds, you know). The visual gaps in Courier font spread the spacing out in some places, within words. So, in order to see the end of the sentence (the “stop”) better, two spaces were placed after end punctuation.
Today’s fonts have what’s called “kerning.” Good ol’ Wikipedia says, “In typography, kerning (less commonly mortising) is the process of adjusting the spacing between characters in a proportional font, usually to achieve a visually pleasing result. Kerning adjusts the space between individual letter forms, while tracking adjusts spacing uniformly over a range of characters. In a well-kerned font, the two-dimensional blank spaces between each pair of characters all have similar area.” Hence, to see the end of the sentence clearlly, two spaces are not needed.
By the way, when we use two spaces after end punctuation with font that is kerned, it creates “rivers of white” on the page: If you unfocused your eyes, the two spaces after the end punctuation creates an illusion of irregular white “lines” running vertically on the page.
Another reason I’ve heard why we don’t place two spaces after end punctuation any more has to do with the Internet. Within three to seven seconds of landing on an Internet page, we decide whether or not we want to stay there or leave. Research proves that words keep the reader on sites more than graphics (tho graphics are important, too). Word real estate on the page is premium, particularly “above the fold” (the landing page’s bottom edge, before you have to scroll down). If we use one space after end punctuation, that adds up to more words that fit on the page. Marketers are trying to eek out as much real estate as possible, to keep people on the page.
So there you have it. I’ve effectively downloaded my limited knowledge on why one space instead of two. Woo hoo — we are both edgeecayted on the critical issue of the day.”
Yeah, it is so important to be edgeecayted, is it not? Write on!
Be encouraged, writers, to gain a fellowship of comrades. I am in a writers critique group and am gaining such a wealth of connection in this sub-culture. If you claim the title of writer, don’t go it alone.