In other words: Punctuation: Taboo topic at family gatherings

by STEPHANIE FELLENSTEIN | HUDSON MONTHLY EDITOR Published:

Most people avoid discussing religion and politics at family gatherings. Not my family. Bring on the religion, but don't go anywhere near punctuation. Yes, you read that right. Punctuation. More specifically, are two spaces or one space needed after a period?

There are two clear sides to this argument -- the one-space winner (me, the journalist) and the two-spaces loser (my brother, the English teacher.)

Space in the journalism world is sacred. That extra white space following a period, exclamation point or question mark could better be used for breaking news or community event coverage. Take this column for example.

There are roughly 40 sentences which translates into 40 extra spaces. Delete those spaces and there is room for another entire sentence.

My poor 10-year-old entered the spaces fray when she returned home from school with her paper on the Titanic clutched in her hand. She admonished me for my bad, one-space-after-a-period advice. It was hard to read with the paper waving in front of my face, but her teacher had written across the top, "2 spaces after every period ..."

One of my writers for Hudson Monthly frequently asks for critiques and suggestions for her articles. Her copy is usually clean and interesting, so I have little to report back, except for spaces.

She is a recovering user of the double space following a period. Even her daughter got in on the debate and sent her mom an article from Slate.com -- "Space Invaders: Why you should never, ever use two spaces after a period."

According to the article's author Farhad Manjoo, the typewriter may actually be to blame for the arrival of the two-space rule. He says typewriters used the same amount of space for every character -- the skinny "I" was floating in space while the "W" stretched to the ends of its block. This led to airy, spaced-out copy, thus necessitating the need for the double space to show a clear delineation between sentences.

Well, brother dearest, in case you haven't noticed, the typewriter is long gone. But don't take my word for it. I checked in with some of the experts at Kent State University to see what they thought.

JAN LEACH, direc-tor of the Media Law Center for Ethics and Access, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, says she, too, heard the two-space requirement came about because of typewriters. And, for the record, she is a proponent of one space after all punctuation.

These days, she says, "most fonts give letters different weights and spacing, and a single space is all that is needed after punctuation to separate sentences.

"I guess that means new fonts are easily readable with just the single space and I'm all for readability, no matter what the font, typeface, spacing," she says. "Anything we can do to make reading easier gets my endorsement."

Claire Culleton, professor of English at Kent with a PhD from the University of Miami, said, wait for it, ONE SPACE.

Actually, here's what she said: "I use and teach my publishing and editing course with The Chicago Manual of Style. They say only one space always. English majors or English teachers were taught MLA [Modern Language Association] style, which is different.

"CMOS is closer to AP [Associated Press] style than MLA, so that's probably why we use one and your bro uses two spaces. And yes, I read something on the Internet about this a while back, and it blamed it on typewriters."

A colleague of mine at the Record-Courier reached out to former Kent State professor Mickey MacAdam, who sent along a link to the MLA. According to the link, "... there is nothing wrong with using two spaces after concluding punctuation marks unless an instructor or editor requests that you do otherwise."

MacAdam admits she is old-school MLA, so she grew accustomed to using two spaces. "However, as the following MLA article makes clear, one is now considered acceptable," she said. "I always encourage writers to consult their specific writing situation for the best format. If the publication uses MLA or APA or Chicago Style, etc., then the writer should meet the requirements therein."

So there you have it.

It seems we both may be right. Just don't tell my brother. We'll discuss it at the next family dinner.

Email: sfellenstein@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4185

Twitter: @HudsonMonthly

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