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How Many Spaces Should There Be at the End of a Sentence?

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The question of whether you should put one or two spaces after the period at the end of a sentence elicits strong reactions on both sides. On the one-space side, this 2011 Slate article by Farhad Manjoo (which currently has over 800,000 Facebook likes) lays out the argument for why “typing two spaces after a period is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong.” Basically, it comes down to aesthetics, with Manjoo maintaining that “one space is simpler, cleaner, and more visually pleasing.” The two-space side, however, has its own idea of what’s visually pleasing, as forcefully argued in this comment to the Chicago Manual of Style Online:

About two spaces after a period. As a U.S. Marine, I know that what’s right is right and you are wrong. I declare it once and for all aesthetically more appealing to have two spaces after a period. If you refuse to alter your bullheadedness, I will petition the commandant to allow me to take one Marine detail to conquer your organization and impose my rule. Thou shalt place two spaces after a period. Period. Semper Fidelis.

The Chicago Manual of Style recommends, as most modern style guides do, the one-space rule.

Why is this a question?

The reason there is a conflict about this at all is because things changed. Early standards for typesetting used a larger space after sentences than between words. The space between sentences was an emspace, or the width of a capital M, and the space between words was one-third of that. You can see the difference in this excerpt from the 1910 edition of the Chicago Manual of Style (which at that time endorsed the larger space after sentences):

For a few hundred years, the whole issue of text spacing was the province of printers and typesetters, and the average writer never had to think about it. Then along came the typewriter, and suddenly everyone could produce printed texts. The emspace spacing standard was approximated on the typewriter by using one space after words and two after sentences. And everybody learned to type that way.

But in the middle of the 20th century, the standard started to change. New typesetting technology used by printing companies made it easier and more economical to print texts with uniform spacing. People got used to seeing this style of printed text, and many thought it looked cleaner and better. But not everyone thought so, and a conflict was born. Plus, typists had gotten used to a double-spacing thumb action that was hard to unlearn, and was transferred, through typing teachers, to the next few generations. So even when people didn’t care one way or the other about the spacing in the texts they read, when they themselves were doing the typing, they preferred to stick with the way they learned it.

Which is better?

Some people think the double space looks messy because it leaves holes and “rivers” in blocks of text. Some people think the double space makes it easier to process sentence breaks. Some people think it’s easier to type one space, because why do something twice when you can do it once? Some people think it’s easier to type two spaces because that’s how they learned it. It would seem, then, that the spacing question is a matter of opinion. Certainly, as the Economist’s Prospero Blog points out, it is not a matter of grammar. It doesn’t have as much to do with language as it does with typing, or graphic design.

Still, even if you don’t have any opinion on the matter, when you’re typing something up, you’ve got to choose one or the other. If you are writing for someone to whom it matters—your boss, your editor, your teacher, your grandma—then you should use the standard they prefer (or the style guide they follow).

These days, the two-space style is sometimes preferred for pre-publication manuscripts (e.g., as stipulated in the American Psychological Association publication guidelines), but most work is published with the one-space style. If you’re texting on your iPhone you can have it both ways—a quick double-space with your thumb will come out as a period with one space after it. That shortcut pairs the traditional typing action with the modern look, reconciling both factions through technology, the very thing that drove the wedge between them in the first place.

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Big Questions
Why Do We Sing the National Anthem at Sporting Events?
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In early September 1814, Francis Scott Key, an American lawyer and amateur poet, accompanied American Prisoner Exchange Agent Colonel John Stuart Skinner to negotiate a prisoner release with several officers of the British Navy. During the negotiations, Key and Skinner learned of the British intention to attack the city of Baltimore, as well as the strength and positions of British forces. They were not permitted to leave for the duration of the battle and witnessed the bombardment of Baltimore's Fort McHenry on September 13 and 14. Inspired by the American victory and the sight of the American flag flying high in the morning, Key wrote a poem titled "The Defence of Fort McHenry."

Key set the lyrics to the anthem of the London-based Anacreontic Society, "The Anacreontic Song." (Nine years earlier, Key had used the same tune for “When the Warrior Returns (from the Battle Afar)” to celebrate Stephen Decatur’s return from fighting the Barbary pirates, which included the line “By the light of the Star Spangled flag of our nation.”)

The poem was taken to a printer, who made broadside copies of it. A few days later, the Baltimore Patriot and The Baltimore American printed the poem with the note "Tune: Anacreon in Heaven." Later, Carrs Music Store in Baltimore published the words and music together as "The Star Spangled Banner."

The song gained popularity over the course of the 19th century and was often played at public events like parades and Independence Day celebrations (and, on occasion, sporting events). In 1889, the Secretary of the Navy ordered it the official tune to be played during the raising of the flag. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered that it be played at all military ceremonies and other appropriate occasions, making it something of an unofficial national anthem.

After America's entrance into World War I, Major League Baseball games often featured patriotic rituals, such as players marching in formation during pregame military drills and bands playing patriotic songs. During the seventh-inning stretch of Game One of the 1918 World Series, the band erupted into "The Star-Spangled Banner." The Cubs and Red Sox players faced the centerfield flag pole and stood at attention. The crowd, already on their feet, began to sing along and applauded at the end of the song.

Given the positive reaction, the band played the song during the next two games, and when the Series moved to Boston, the Red Sox owner brought in a band and had the song played before the start of each remaining contest. After the war (and after the song was made the national anthem in 1931), the song continued to be played at baseball games, but only on special occasions like opening day, national holidays, and World Series games.

During World War II, baseball games again became venues for large-scale displays of patriotism, and technological advances in public address systems allowed songs to be played without a band. "The Star-Spangled Banner" was played before games throughout the course of the war, and by the time the war was over, the pregame singing of the national anthem had become cemented as a baseball ritual, after which it spread to other sports.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Words
Why Is 'Colonel' Spelled That Way?
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English spelling is bizarre. We know that. From the moment we learn about silent “e” in school, our innocent expectations that sound and spelling should neatly match up begin to fade away, and soon we accept that “eight” rhymes with “ate,” “of” rhymes with “love,” and “to” sounds like “too” sounds like “two.” If we do sometimes briefly pause to wonder at these eccentricities, we quickly resign ourselves to the fact that there must be reasons—stuff about history and etymology and sound changing over time. Whatever. English. LOL. Right? It is what it is.

But sometimes English takes it a step too far, does something so brazen and shameless we can’t just let it slide. That’s when we have to throw our shoulders back, put our hands on our hips and ask, point blank, what is the deal with the word “colonel”?

“Colonel” is pronounced just like “kernel.” How did this happen? From borrowing the same word from two different places. In the 1500s, English borrowed a bunch of military vocabulary from French, words like cavalerie, infanterie, citadelle, canon, and also, coronel. The French had borrowed them from the Italians, then the reigning experts in the art of war, but in doing so, had changed colonello to coronel.

Why did they do that? A common process called dissimilation—when two instances of the same sound occur close to each other in a word, people tend to change one of the instances to something else. Here, the first “l” was changed to “r.” The opposite process happened with the Latin word peregrinus (pilgrim), when the first “r” was changed to an “l” (now it’s peregrino in Spanish and Pellegrino in Italian. English inherited the “l” version in pilgrim.)

After the dissimilated French coronel made its way into English, late 16th century scholars started producing English translations of Italian military treatises. Under the influence of the originals, people started spelling it “colonel.” By the middle of the 17th century, the spelling had standardized to the “l” version, but the “r” pronunciation was still popular (it later lost a syllable, turning kor-o-nel to ker-nel). Both pronunciations were in play for a while, and adding to the confusion was the mistaken idea that “coronel” was etymologically related to “crown”—a colonel was sometimes translated as “crowner” in English. In fact, the root is colonna, Italian for column.

Meanwhile, French switched back to “colonel,” in both spelling and pronunciation. English throws its shoulders back, puts its hands on its hips and asks, how boring is that?

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