Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A little post about snobbery:

So maybe a year ago a friend of mine told me that it wasn't "proper" to put two spaces after a period anymore.  Last week my sister mentioned it, and today my brother did.  This wasn't them telling me because I do it, this was them mentioning it because using two spaces is how we were all taught

So there are two types of fonts, proportional and monospace.  Proportional "should" have one space after ending punctuation, monospace "should" have two spaces.  Note the quotes, because it's all really down to taste, training and usage and there's no punctuation jail for people who choose to do it their own way, unfortunately.  Here's a bit of dickishness about "proper" spacing some guy chose to inflict on the world, go read that if you want lessons in looking down your nose at people.  I'm not going to waste a lot of time writing about this because:

1)  There's no objective right and wrong---it's all down to taste, and
2) Even if there were an objective right it wouldn't matter anyway, because the amount of spaces after a period has no tangible impact on the movings and dealings of the world at large or its inhabitants.

In the article I linked above, the guy mentioned that every typographer (actually, every "modern" typographer, kind of implying that some do disagree, but they're not modern so they don't matter) knows to use one space, the same way waiters know which fork goes where.  That's an apt comparison, because neither thing matters.  They're both social signals.  Having a bunch of rules at the dinner table was a way for people of "high" breeding to signal their place in the social structure, as well as an easy way for those people to weed out the lowborns.

Do yourself a favor.  Re-read that Slate article and ask yourself, is the author helping anybody?  Does his tone and style make you think he's trying to make anybody's life easier with his advice?  Or is he just trying to make his preferred social signal the dominant one?  I mean, you might save a few minutes across your entire life by not typing that extra space, but you've blown those extra minutes in the time spent reading his article in the first place.  He actually acknowledges this:
And yet people who use two spaces are everywhere, their ugly error crossing every social boundary of class, education, and taste.
Because without social boundaries, how could we be dicks to all of our friends?  Without appearing to be dicks, I mean.  The best part of social boundaries is there's so many of them.  Is this guy dressed better than you?  Oh, and he has better manners?  Bummer.  Wait, he used two spaces after a period in a text!  Ooh, you can use that to cement your superiority over him.  Hooray for creating hoops people have to jump through to hang out with you, or to be seen as human beings in your eyes!!!

Full disclosure: I do most of my writing in a monospace font for a dozen reasons, and it's a hundred times easier to proofread (and just easier on the eyes) to enter two spaces after a period.  However, most places where I publish writing, including this blog, remove those extra spaces as part of their formatting system.  For instance, even if you type two spaces after a period in an html document, it only renders one.  I'm pretty sure Blogger ignores the second space too.  I don't worry about it in either case, because it doesn't matter.

Let's get this straight.  When writing, here are things that matter:

  • Tenses matter
  • Proper punctuation matters
  • Proper spelling matters (only every now and then)
  • Pluralization matters

Clarity matters above all, and these other things matter because they introduce redundancy and secure the clarity of the information you are trying to communicate.  If I write an email and put a comma in the wrong place, the meaning of the entire sentence (and due to clouding the context, the entire paragraph or email) could be messed up.  If I write my friend an email reminiscing about an old camping trip but only use the future tense he might ask me if I'm trying to invite him on another trip.  If I use one space or two after a period it affects, wait for it...absolutely nothing.

No! the Slate article says, It looks worse.  It hurts my delicate eyes to see two spaces after a period instead of one.  Also this way is right, and that way is wrong, because Argument From Authority!

Oh shit, so if I use two spaces after a period, that could end up distracting you to the point that you'll crash the plane you're flying?  It'll cost lives?  It'll make you blind in one eye, it'll break your computer screen, it'll bring God's wrath down upon me, it will have some sort of tangible affect on the world?  Nope?  It will actually have no affect at all except for annoying you?

Sounds like a great reason to keep following ending punctuation with two spaces to me!



PS - You know what?  He mentioned social boundaries, I'm honor-bound to quote Cloud Atlas:
I understand now that boundaries between noise and sound are conventions. All boundaries are conventions, waiting to be transcended. One may transcend any convention if only one can first conceive of doing so.

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