Where the dangers presented by those with a little learning are allayed        

The Fullpoint

A lot of drivel has been dribbled over the use of the fullpoint (AKA "full stop" and "period").

There is a lot of loud support (have you ever noticed that the loudest support for anything always seems to come from people who don't have a clue what they're talking about?) for nonsense about spacing after a fullpoint, which not only lacks logic and foundation, but also goes against the massive tide of what everyone actually does.

Not unexpectedly, a lot of the more recent nonsense is from Internet "writers" (many of who have even less than a little learning), who are just too damned lazy to double-space, because doing so requires a non-breaking space to be inserted.

The Publisher Myth

"ALL PUBLISHERS AND STYLE GUIDES SAY YOU SHOULD USE ONLY ONE SPACE AFTER A FULLPOINT!"

Bollocks.  I've written for dozens of publishers, and the majority want two spaces, because it makes it easier for readers to see whether that tiny little mark at the end of a clause is a comma or a fullpoint, and there isn't a reputable non-publisher-specific style guide in the world that says anything of the kind.

Most published text is "justified-both" (like this paragraph), and so has a straight right-hand margin that goes all the way to the right-hand edge of the column.  To achieve this, typesetters (whether human or machine) stretch or contract the spaces between sentences, words, and letters so that each line precisely fits the width of the column (this is called tracking, and has always been used for both proportional and fixed-width fonts, no matter what noisy boys of little learning say about it).

So, for texts going to print, the various publishing houses have their own rule about spacing after a fullpoint, because their rules are based on the in-house processes and preferences of their typesetting team e.g. some typesetters prefer "natural" (AKA "double") spacing after a fullpoint, while some prefer single-spacing, which leaves it entirely in the hands of the typesetter to extend or reduce the fullpoint spacing as necessary to fit the column.

Just keep in mind that any rule about spacing after a fullpoint laid down by a publishing house's style guide is applicable only for that specific publishing house, and, unless you are writing for publication by that publishing house, it does not apply to your work.

Example

The Chicago style guide has a section about what is required in manuscripts that are submitted for publication by the University of Chicago Press.

In this section (about requirements for manuscripts that are submitted for publication by the University of Chicago Press, remember), it states that, for manuscripts that are submitted for publication by the University of Chicago Press, you have to place a single space after the fullpoint.

It is very clear that the rule is only for manuscripts that are submitted for publication by the University of Chicago Press, because it is in a section about manuscripts that are submitted for publication by the University of Chicago Press.

This will be because the typesetters/typesetting processes at Chicago require a single space after a fullpoint and if you don't want problems with their typesetting team, you do whatever the Hell they tell you do.

But, if you are not writing manuscripts that are submitted for publication by the University of Chicago Press, then the rule does not apply to your work.

The same goes for all publishers.  If you cause problems for the guys who do all the work involved in taking your work and presenting it to your readers, don't expect them to be happy with you.  Nobody likes arrogant troublemakers.

For documents that are not sent to a publisher for printing, publishers' in-house rules do not apply to the spacing used after a fullpoint, so use the natural rule, and double-space.

The Typewriter Myth

Apparently, if you believe the myth:

  1. Double-spacing after a fullpoint was introduced when typewriters were invented, to allow people to clearly see whether the little mark at the end of a clause was a comma or a fullpoint, and because it made the text easier to read.

  2. Single-spacing was introduced for proportional fonts, because otherwise the spaces were too big.

Looking at these points with eyes that are not clouded with the desire to believe, we can see that point 1 is ridiculous, because what happened before typewriters were invented was that people wrote by hand and people writing by hand leave a small space between words, and a space that's at least double that width at the end of each sentence i.e. the convention is, and has always been, to double-space after a fullpoint.

But, even though it is totally untrue, those of a little learning still loudly espouse point 1.

The verity of point 2 relies on the space character of proportional fonts being wider than the space characters of fixed-width fonts, which they are plainly not.  The space on a fixed-width or typewriter font is as wide as every other character (including "M" and "W"), but the space of a proportional font is as narrow as, or narrower than, the narrowest letter (usually "I" or "l")

A double space in many proportional fonts is actually narrower than the single space of some fixed-width fonts, so the suggestion that a double fixed-width space is just right, while a double proportional space is too wide, is utterly ludicrous the one that is "just right" is up to three times wider than the one that is "too wide".

But, even though it is quite obviously and ridiculously wrong, those of little learning (and, presumably, no spatial awareness whatsoever) still loudly espouse point 2.

Watch them cough and splutter as they try to change their story, after having read this.

The Facts

Problems with tracking only came into being after the advent of the word-processor or, more precisely, after word-processors began to handle tracking for text that is justified-both.

Because early word-processor tracking functions were overenthusiastic in tracking the spaces between words and sentences, but not much interested in the spacing between letters, they relied too much on extending and contracting the space character.

Which word-processor was the worst offender?  I'm not saying a Word.

If the text in a line was a little too long, the adjust-spaces-only method was not a problem all the spaces were reduced a little, until the text fit the line.

It was lines of text that were too short that were the problem.

Using only the width of space characters to adjust a line that was too short meant extending each space character by an equal percentage of the distance required to make the line fit to the right margin.

But having two space characters after a fullpoint meant that the actual space following a fullpoint was extended by twice as much as the spaces between words, which could result in huge gaps after fullpoints.

If only a single space followed a fullpoint, that problem went away, and the text became easier to read again, so many institutions, whether business or academic, came to set a rule that, for texts that are justified-both, only a single space is to be placed after a fullpoint.

Remember:  I was there!  That is exactly what happened.

Somewhere along the way, the fact was lost that this rule only applies and is only useful if text is being justified-both by a (version of a) word-processor produced in the nineteen-eighties or earlier.

It now being a third of a century later, I'd hazard a wild guess that any documents that you write today are not produced in a word-processor made in the nineteen-eighties or earlier, so the antique-word-processor-single-space-when-justifying-both rule does not apply to the spacing after a fullpoint in your documents.

i.e. double-space after fullpoints.

Summing Up

  • When writing by hand, people leave a larger space after a fullpoint than they leave between words, because this helps the reader to read the text, and therefore understand what is written, more easily.

  • Unless a publisher requires it, you should not justify-both (I wish you good luck in finding a publisher that wants you to).

  • If your documents are not sent to a publishing house to be printed, e.g. if they're for distribution as computer files, or if they're printed on a printer at work, the typesetting requirements of publishers are not a consideration.

  • If your documents are ever sent to a publishing house to be printed, then the particular typesetting rules of that specific publishing house must be taken into consideration.

  • Setting a double space after a fullpoint in text that is not justified-both (even in a word-processor produced in the nineteen-eighties or earlier) makes text easier to read.

  • For every publication produced with a single space after the fullpoint, there are several hundred thousand publications produced with either a double space or an en-space after the fullpoint.

  • If your employer (who is not a publisher, but for whom you create documents) says you should follow a particular style guide, follow it but make sure that your employer knows the difference between general style rules and style rules that are specific to the typesetting departments of the producer of the style guide.  Requirements that are specific to the typesetting department of a publisher (e.g. the Chicago, mentioned above) must not be followed, even if the non-typesetting-department rules are mandatory.

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