Today at work, I was fairly shocked to discover that nearly everyone there over the age of 25 believes that it is technically correct to put two spaces after the end of a sentence. Although we were allowed this in elementary school, the teachers of my high school classes made it clear to us that two spaces was a strategy to artificially lengthen your paper. The ultimate cop-out (almost as bad as CliffsNotes).
So I’m taking a little time out to figure out who exactly is right.
According to my MLA Handbook (copyrighted in 2003, but I’m not buying another one just for this ridiculous fight):
“Publications in the United States today usually have the same spacing after a period, a question mark, or an exclamation point as between words on the same line. Since word processors make available the same fonts used by typesetters for printed works, many writers, influenced by the look of typeset publications, now leave only one space after a concluding punctuation mark. In addition, most publishers’ guidelines for preparing a manuscript on disk ask professional authors to type only the spaces that are to appear in print.
“Because it is increasingly common for papers and manuscripts to be prepared with a single space after all concluding punctuation marks, this spacing is shown in the examples in this handbook. As a practical matter, however, there is nothing wrong with using two spaces after concluding punctuation marks unless an instructor requests you to do otherwise. Whichever spacing you choose, be sure to use it consistently in all parts of your paper — the works-cited list as well as the main text. By contrast, internal punctuation marks such as a colon, comma, and a semicolon, should always be followed by one space.”
OK, so it doesn’t really come to a conclusive “yes” or “no.” But considering that the book itself uses the one-space rule, I think I’m going to call this for the one-space camp.
But this also says something about the rules of writing: they are changeable, and this is much more true than we realize. In my lifetime, the semicolon could very well fall out of use (especially as some of my journalism professors more or less told us to stay away from it). Scarier still, texting jargon could find its way into actual serious writing. Let’s not kid ourselves — it’s already infiltrated middle school English papers all over the country.
Vanity Fair‘s May 2010 issue talks about how the makers of Time magazine brought several words into common use (including kudos!). So what words will my generation contribute? Will it be things like “Brangelina” and “lolz?” Or am I looking at history too close? Maybe it will be words like “Obamacare” or Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness.”
Frankly, I just hope that we can escape from “whateva” pretty soon.