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Re: A proposed standard for CSS-controlled sentence spacing

From: Thomas A. Fine <fine@head.cfa.harvard.edu>
Date: Thu, 10 Jan 2013 22:13:16 -0500
Message-ID: <50EF834C.6060208@head.cfa.harvard.edu>
To: liam@w3.org
CC: robert@ocallahan.org, "Tab Atkins Jr." <jackalmage@gmail.com>, www-style mailing list <www-style@w3.org>
All of this is a little bit beside the point, but since it's been raised...

On 1/10/13 7:33 PM, Liam R E Quin wrote:
On Fri, 2013-01-11 at 13:14 +1300, Robert O'Callahan wrote:
> I believe that the habit of typing two spaces after the end of a sentence
> was originally a workaround for lack of proportional letter spacing.

This is a common myth, bat as Mr. Quin is trying to say below, wide 
sentence spacing predates the typewriter by hundreds of years.  Wide 
spacing for sentences was also standard in penmanship.  The use of two 
spaces on the typewriter was a natural extension of the wide sentence 
space in use in all of the other media of the day.

Even if you ignore the historical impossibility, the whole proportional 
font argument never made sense anyway.  The argument is basically that 
while your average character grows by about 50% for a monospaced font, 
the space character grows by 300%, therefore you need another space. 
The notion is ridiculous from the start, and of course it is absolutely 
absent from the historical record.

On 1/10/13 7:33 PM, Liam R E Quin wrote:
> A lot of many people believe this, although in fact the practice,
> sometimes included in the term French Spacing, predates the typewriter.

French spacing is supposed to mean narrow (word-sized) spacing between 
sentences, and it stems from the fact that while english printers 
universally used very wide sentence spacing the french did not. 
Interestingly (to me) the actual phrase "french spacing" did not come 
into common use in typography books until around the same time the US 
print industry was transitioning from wide to narrow spacing.  The 
earliest reference to the phrase I've found is 1939.

Unfortunately in the last couple of decades some fool printed a book 
where he reversed the meaning, and a bunch of people have duplicated 
that mistake, and so I never use the term french spacing because it only 
leads to massive confusion.

> It's particularly helpful in setting work with a lot of abbreviations,
> such as Mrs. These can be especially confusing at the end of a sentence.

This is probably partly why it was standard practice in english.  But 
the 19th century references I've read like to talk about larger sized 
spaces to match with larger sized pauses, so a comma would have a word 
space after it (and a thin space before it), but a colon would have an 
en space (and a period was always followed an em space).  It's not clear 
when this method was introduced, it's fairly consistent in the 1700s and 
appeared sometime in the 1600s at the same time that blackletter was 
disappearing from use. From Gutenberg until the 1600s, sentence spacing 
was the same as spacing around other punctuation (colons, semicolons, 
and commas), which is to say there was a word-sized space both before 
and after the punctuation, which created a larger gap than between words 
which had no punctuation.  The capitals in blackletter were heavier so 
one possibility is that when they started using lighter fonts, they 
wanted a larger space to emphasize the sentences in the absence of those 
heavy capitals.

Received on Friday, 11 January 2013 03:13:48 UTC

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