"Kid, what's this I hear about putting only one space after a period?" asked my friend, Karl.
Huh? I said. His question shook me from my reverie. We were sitting in First Edition, our favorite literary bar, for the open mic reading, and I was half-listening to some guy read a short story about how he got into a car accident with former Pacers legend Reggie Miller.
What are you talking about?
"I said, what is this nonsense about putting only one space after a period?" I stared at him blankly. "In writing, you dolt. We're writers. We're sitting in a writer's bar. We're listening to some skinny kid talk about fake car accidents. What else would I be talking about?" Short Story Guy looked up at us from his pages, flustered. His girlfriend shot Karl a dirty look.
So what about it? I said.
"I just heard from my editor yesterday that I'm supposed to be putting only one space after a period at the end of a sentence instead of two."
Well, yeah. I thought everyone knew that.
"Apparently I didn't," Karl said. "And neither does anyone else in their 50s."
You're in your 60s.
"Shut up, Kid." Karl waved down Kurt the bartender. "Can I get one more beer, please, Kurt?"
Don't you mean two? I asked.
"One space, one beer." I held up two fingers to Kurt, who nodded. He's gotten used to us by now.
What are you even talking about? I've only been half listening. I have no idea what you're going on about.
"I got my latest manuscript back today from some wet-behind-the-ears punk of an editor who 'informs me' that I only need to put one space after a period, instead of two, like I've been doing for the last 48 years."
"So when did that happen?"
It's been like that ever since I've been using a computer for the last 27 years. We don't need to do that anymore. We haven't since the typewriter days.
"How do you figure?"
It has to do with the fonts of a computer versus a typewriter, I explained. Kurt stopped nearby and pretended to polish a glass. Short Story Guy's girlfriend turned our way, having heard the Reggie Miller story many times before.
On a typewriter, every letter is the same width, I explained. The "i" takes up the same space as the "m." To help separate the sentences visually, we had to put two spaces after a period. But on a computer, each letter is a different width, and the computer automatically makes a slightly larger space after a period. That means we don't need to put two spaces after a period.
"That's just stupid," said Karl. "Why should I have to change the way I do things, just because some punk editor who's younger than my grandson says I should?"
Because it's wrong, I said. It's ineffective, it wastes time, and it's completely unnecessary. It's wrong because every style manual in this country says so. It's wrong because it wastes so much space. I'd hate to think how many extra pages are printed and wasted because of those spaces. The extra pages even take up extra space on a computer's hard drive.
"No, they don't," said Karl. "They're just spaces, so they don't take up any room."
How do you even know? You just found out about this thing today, but now you're an authority on computer disk storage?
"All I know is this is what I learned back in high school in 1966. If the rules were good enough then, they're good enough now."
Seriously? You're basing your computer usage on how you learned to use a typewriter five decades ago? That's like telling someone how to use a washing machine when your only frame of reference is banging your shirts on a rock down at the river.
"Hey, what was good enough for Mrs. Carey is good enough for me."
Mrs. Carey's VCR probably flashed "12:00" well into the 1990s, I said. Short Story Guy's girlfriend moved a couple seats away from us.
"Kid, when you've got a system that works, you stick with it. You don't just make changes for change's sake."
But that doesn't mean you stay with something just because it's how you've always done it. Everyone under 35 is doing one space, why do you have to be so stubborn?
"Sometimes you just gotta stick with the classics."
That's why I keep you around, old man.
Karl raised his bony middle finger at me. "It's your round, Kid."
Fine, make it a double.
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