The Period

One space good, two spaces bad.

Summer, 2003 / No. 10

If there is one thing Taddle Creek hates, it is the use of extraneous spacing after terminal punctuation—more specifically, the leaving of two spaces after a period. This rather quaint practice dates to the pre-computer days of the manual typewriter, which spaced characters so loosely that extra room between sentences was often needed to improve readability. Today, however, word-processing machines not only allow authors to kern type for maximum readability, but usually do it for them automatically.

And yet, Taddle Creek continues to receive countless submissions typeset with two spaces after terminal periods. This, despite the fact that Taddle Creek Guideline for Submission No. 9.6 clearly states: “Under no circumstances leave two spaces after terminal periods.” The magazine has long blamed the Modern Language Association for this typesetting travesty. Since 1951, the M.L.A. has published style guidelines that are widely used by academics and university students, and began promoting the use of two spaces after punctuation in 1970. It would appear that, like Pavlovian dogs, most authors have continued this punctuation faux pas in their post-education life. Taddle Creek was preparing to begin an extensive lobby aimed at persuading the M.L.A. to cease and desist encouraging this practice, when it discovered that the association had not been actively encouraging it since 1995. “Since word processors make available the same fonts used by typesetters for printed works, many writers, influenced by the look of typeset publications, now leave only one space after a concluding punctuation mark,” reads the M.L.A.’s current position. “Because it is increasingly common for papers and manuscripts to be prepared with a single space after all punctuation marks, this spacing is shown in the examples in the MLA Handbook and the MLA Style Manual. As a practical matter, however, there is nothing wrong with using two spaces after concluding punctuation marks unless an instructor or editor requests that you do otherwise.” While the magazine disagrees with this concluding sentence, it concedes the M.L.A. is doing its part for the war on extraneous spacing, while still looking out for its own best interests. As Eric Wirth, the M.L.A.’s assistant editor, recently wrote Taddle Creek, “We actually receive many manuscripts in Courier [a typeface very similar to that of a manual typewriter] from academic authors, and some editors here choose Courier for printing copy. [sic]As a manuscript editor, I’m grateful for extra space between sentences in monospaced fonts and even other fonts.”

Very well. With the M.L.A.’s position in mind, Taddle Creek sees only two remaining solutions: (1) eradicate Courier, or; (2) encourage authors to recognize their audience, keeping in mind that no book or magazine publisher uses two spaces after a period. The magazine admits to having a soft spot for Courier, and so, for the time being, will attempt the latter. Authors, the magazine implores you: please stop sending in submissions with two spaces after the period.