From The Atlantic:
This is a time of much division. Families and communities are splintered by polarizing narratives. Outrage surrounds geopolitical discourse—so much so that anxiety often becomes a sort of white noise, making it increasingly difficult to trigger intense, acute anger. The effect can be desensitizing, like driving 60 miles per hour and losing hold of the reality that a minor error could result in instant death.
One thing that apparently still has the power to infuriate people, though, is how many spaces should be used after a period at the end of an English sentence.
The war is alive again of late because a study that came out this month from Skidmore College. The study is, somehow, the first to look specifically at this question. It is titled: “Are Two Spaces Better Than One? The Effect of Spacing Following Periods and Commas During Reading.”
It appears in the current issue of the journal Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics. As best I can tell, psychophysics is a word; the Rochester Institute of Technology defines it as the “study of the relationship between stimuli (specified in physical terms) and the sensations and perceptions evoked by these stimuli.” The researchers are also real. Rebecca Johnson, an associate professor in Skidmore’s department of psychology, led the team. Her expertise is in the cognitive processes underlying reading. As Johnson told me, “Our data suggest that all readers benefit from having two spaces after periods.”
“Increased spacing has been shown to help facilitate processing in a number of other reading studies,” Johnson explained to me by email, using two spaces after each period. “Removing the spaces between words altogether drastically hurts our ability to read fluently, and increasing the amount of space between words helps us process the text.”
In the Skidmore study, among people who write with two spaces after periods—“two-spacers”—there was an increase in reading speed of 3 percent when reading text with two spaces following periods, as compared to one. This is, Johnson points out, an average of nine additional words per minute above their performance “under the one-space conditions.”
Link to the rest at The Atlantic
PG has been typing for so long and so automatically, he wasn’t certain how many spaces he uses after a period.
When PG learned to type (Yes, on a typewriter. His mother made him take a typing course in high school. Most useful class he’s ever taken.), the standard form was to use two spaces after each sentence.
In monospaced fonts like the long departed Courier, two spaces made for a more noticeable break than the proportionally-spaced fonts that became the standard when personal computers took over.
This is a monospaced font with two spaces after the period. This is a monospaced font with two spaces after the period. This is a monospaced font with two spaces after the period. This is a monospaced font with two spaces after the period. This is a monospaced font with one space after the period. This is a monospaced font with one space after the period. This is a monospaced font with one space after the period. This is a monospaced font with one space after the period. This is a monospaced font with one space after the period.
In the ancient days of typewriters, there were a few IBM models that produced proportional text, but correcting errors was a huge problem. With a monospaced font typewriter, each character and its associated blank space before and after the character was the same width, so an i was the same width as an m. With proportional spacing, if an i was typed instead of an m, there wasn’t room to white-out the i and insert the m with Liquid Paper without intruding on the character following the m.
Monospaced ii and mm
Proportionally spaced ii and mm
Expertly correcting a single mis-typed character in a monospaced font could be done without making the correction too obvious (see Correcting Selectric for the height of that art). Depending upon the formal or informal standards of a particular business, the acceptable number of corrections that could be made without retyping the entire page varied. To whom a letter was being sent or for whom a document was being created also impacted how many corrections were permissible.
Law offices were generally the most particular. It was not unusual for a will to require perfect typing with no corrections. A typo on the last line of a page in a will required retyping the entire page.
In large offices, typically only those secretaries who could almost always type a page with no errors were likely to have IBM Executive typewriters with proportional spacing. Secretaries (almost always female) did all the typing because non-secretaries (almost always male) didn’t know how to type. PG caused mild consternation when he requested a typewriter for his personal use at work during those long-gone days.
PG can’t remember when he changed from two spaces to a single space after the end of a sentence, but he’s pretty certain his automatic default today is one space.