W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > www-style@w3.org > January 2013

Re: A proposed standard for CSS-controlled sentence spacing

From: Thomas A. Fine <fine@head.cfa.harvard.edu>
Date: Fri, 11 Jan 2013 23:10:21 -0500
Message-ID: <50F0E22D.60409@head.cfa.harvard.edu>
To: François REMY <francois.remy.dev@outlook.com>
CC: "www-style@w3.org" <www-style@w3.org>
On 1/11/13 4:01 PM, François REMY wrote:
> Why not just use &ensp; to separate sentences?
[And Eric A. Meyer had a similar question about using pre-wrap, at least 
some of this answer applies there]

Well, if I just wanted "two spaces", the en space is way too big, being 
(on average) about twice as big as a regular space (there's no set 
standard but these days 1/4 em is a typical size for the standard word 
space).  There is in fact no entity that is a duplicate of a font's word 
space that can be used for non-collapsing extra space.

But I don't just want "two spaces". Formatting shouldn't be done with 
entities, formatting should be done with CSS.  Aside from the obvious 
reason that it's just the wrong way to do formatting, it also fails to 
provide fine-grained control, and there is no dynamic control available 
either.  You can't create content, and then go back and fiddle with the 
sentence spacing until it looks right, the way you can with paragraphs, 
and indentation, line spacing, letter spacing, margins, page width, and 
dozens of other CSS-controlled features.

> I just tested in IE and this works fine with 'text-align: justify' and 'text-align: center' (the extended space can be 'collapsed' between two lines like a normal space) and you get one single space between sentences but the space is larger than an usual space (something like two times an usual space).
> I also tested in the other browsers, but this doesn't seem to work properly when 'text-align; justify' is specified... You should maybe report the bug to the browser vendors and try to get that fixed (that should be easy for them).

Which leads me to another reason that it's a poor solution: because 
apparently it doesn't work correctly, and it isn't even clear to me what 
the correct behavior is and who should be fixing the error.

> However, I must admit that, now that I saw it in use, I don't find the double-spacing easier to read (in fact, I find that significantly worse than a single space in the case of a justified text). As a Belgian person, I never saw this used once at all, so this haibt must be completely dead here.

Isn't this an excellent argument in favor of putting sentence spacing 
under CSS control?  If you are viewing content that has sentences 
formatted with space entities or pre-wrap spaces, you are stuck with it. 
  But if the content has CSS-controlled sentence formatting that does 
not appeal to you, you could adjust your viewing experience in the browser.

>> So wider spacing is by no means dead, and absolutely not "wrong". But
>> another decade or two of HTML without a practical means for non-experts
>> to use wide spacing between sentences will probably eliminate the
>> practice entirely.
> It's like old languages. There's nothing wrong with them, they just fall out of use because it's more akward to use them than some other 'more popular' language. Going against that trend is not particularly useful, if you want my point of view. 		 	   		

Which trend?  In commercial printing the trend away from wide spacing is 
obvious, although the historic reasons for that trend have pretty much 
evaporated.  In people's habits it's still alive and well.  And in 
scholarly publications it's also still very common.  Why abandon 
something that's still in common use, and still easily accessible?

I have to confess I'm surprised that a list about CSS isn't getting 
this.  The very purpose of CSS and style sheets is to separate the 
formatting from the content.  So why then are CSS experts offering me 
only content-based formatting?

For 500 years, printer was done with movable type.  And throughout that 
history, workers who couldn't imagine the power of the modern computer, 
and the abilities of HTML and CSS could use wider formatting on their 
sentences, and for much of that history, most printers (in english at 
least) did just that.

HTML/CSS offers no practical solution for one of the most common 
printing practices in the history of movable type.  Doesn't that seem 
odd to anybody?

Received on Saturday, 12 January 2013 04:10:52 UTC

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