October 23, 2020
Space wars: Extra space, yes, but not necessarily two spaces
A couple of years ago, a study came out supporting the idea that two spaces after a period makes sentences easier to read. A great cheer went up from two-space supporters.
You can read about it in the Washington Post.
But it makes you wonder — where are these people even seeing two spaces?
Looking around the house, two spaces are nowhere to be found. Not in a letter from the bank that arrived this week, not in a textbook published in 2004, not in a novel published in 1983.
They are also nowhere to be found on the internet. Anything more than one space is stripped out by the web browser when it renders the code.
There are ways to ensure two spaces after a period, but they are laborious, and no one is going to pay a web developer to waste the time. A special bit of code would have to be inserted wherever you wanted the extra space.
Automated solutions would take a lot of time and effort to devise because of the difficulty in determining what constitutes the end of a sentence. Take this example:
Our hours are Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
There are four places that might be a period ending the sentence. You could write a program that made exceptions for a.m and p.m., but then you’re stuck with an infinitude of other abbreviations to account for.
The best solution would be for web browsers to have a built-in way of adding extra space after a period, although not necessarily two spaces. The amount of space would have to be balanced with all the other spacing in the context of the article.
Why is this best? Because not only does it recognizes that extra space indeed makes it easier to tell where one sentence ends and another begins. But it also because it recognizes that the concept of “spaces” that we learned from typewriter days is long gone.
Spacing has become a more subtle art, and should be measured that way.