Have you ever had the experience of working at something fairly important only to have your attention hijacked by a jot, a mustard seed, a thing so insignificant as to be an absence, even? The memo is due by the end of the day and along about 3 p.m. it strikes you that there’s this blemish on the “k” key; you can feel it with the tip of your ring finger, you swear you can; and it’s… irritating. What you really need is a Q-tip and maybe some nail polish remover. You go looking…
As I’ve mentioned a couple of times recently, I’ve been assembling teaching materials from CanLII, fretting over the selection, order and editing of the judgments, making the formatting consistent (this is not the small thing, not exactly — layout of reading matter is never really a small thing) so that the whole looks as professional as I can make it. And then, somewhere between subsections 1 and 2 of section 58 of the Condominium Act I realized that the case reports from the Ontario courts put a double space after a period.
This is wrong. It’s either a holdover from typewriting, when all fonts were monospaced and so tended to need that extra yawning gap to help the eye figure out where a thought ended, or someone’s decision to round up the 1.5 spaces used by typesetters.
Many descriptivists support the notion that a single space after a full stop should be considered standard because it has been the norm in mainstream publishing for many decades. This is supported by the MLA, APA, and The Chicago Manual of Style. Many prescriptivists, meanwhile, adhere to the earlier use of two spaces on typewriters to make the separation of sentences more salient than separation of elements within sentences. Since current style guides are founded on the consensus of practice, the evidence strongly suggests that most people accept the single space in modern word-processing, largely for the reason that two spaces may stretch inordinately when full justification is applied. Additionally, many computer typefaces are designed proportionately to alleviate the need for the double space (the opposition would of course reply that this does nothing to satisfy the aforementioned saliency issue). Most widely accepted contemporary style guides categorically require that only one space be placed after full stops and similar punctuation marks, and they characterise modern practice as avoiding it.
And besides, I’m sure that if it were brought to their attention, the courts would be embarrassed to be wasting space — which turns into wasting paper in this print-mad world — often as many as two hundred of the little critters in a single judgment. So, you jurists, tighten it up!
Thankfully, “search and replace” promptly took care of this problem in my teaching materials, but then I found myself wanting to tell you about it…