The One-Space, Two-Space Shuffle

My first job as a professional writer began in January of 2011 when I was appointed to a one-year term as the Yukon-based associate editor of Up Here magazine. I showed up with lots of enthusiasm, but also sporting a few notions about grammatical correction that needed to be massaged out of my writing process.

I handed in my first article and my editor said (paraphrasing here), “Yeah, not bad, but remember we only use one space after a period.”

One space after a period? My elementary school language arts teachers must be rolling in their graves (if they are, in fact, dead). I remember clearly being told to measure out two spaces the width of my index finger at the end of each sentence on those old double-lined notebooks we used. Failure to comply with this rule would result in the immediate revocation of Tonka Truck privileges. Twenty-odd years later, the tide has shifted.

The two-space rule is a relic from the monospacing days of the typewriter. On a typewriter each letter is printed using the same size block. With such a system, an “I” and a “C” use up the exact same amount of space on a page even though the letter “I” itself takes up considerably less horizontal space than the “C”. Two spaces after a period was thought to provide a clear visual delineation between the end of one sentence and the beginning of the next.

But now, in the digital age, where letters are no longer printed on equal-sized blocks, the two-space technique looks a bit passé. That said, for the first few weeks on the job — as I was getting used to the new one-space rule — my rhythm was completely screwed up.

Someone wise once told me (paraphrasing again), “If you enjoy an activity you will eventually learn to enjoy the incidental things that accompany that activity.”

For example, if you love painting you will eventually learn to love the smell of paint, too. When I write, my right hand traces over the keyboard and hits the appropriate key fairly hard, making a satisfying “click” sound. Meanwhile my left hand hovers over the proceedings like a lopsided vulture, waiting to clobber the “shift” key when capitalization is needed. Over time, I’ve learned to love the sound of typing — the clicking of the keyboard is like music to me.

And a period was always followed by two cymbal-like crashes on the space bar. But now that it’s been reduced to just one such crash on the spacebar, the whole rhythm of my writing has changed; I was like a blues musician trying to learn jazz.

But since then I’ve come to appreciate the new pace. Now, as I sit down at my What’s Up Yukon editor’s desk (read: sofa in my living room), I smile nostalgically when a “two-space” story is submitted, but I have come to appreciate the writing-rhythm of the “one-space” story. It’s faster and it annoys the older generation.

When you think about it that way, it’s a bit like rock ‘n’ roll.

Peter Jickling is a Whitehorse playwright and the assistant editor of What’s Up Yukon

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