Is typing two spaces after a period “totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong?” Also, is the language of the movie True Grit historically accurate? Also, shut your pie-hole, Southern grammar, oh my Lady Gaga, and a little town called “Podunk.”

This episode first aired February 13, 2011. Listen here:

Download the MP3 here (23.8 MB).

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How many spaces go after a period? Your schoolteacher may have taught you to use two, but others strongly disagree.

Shut your piehole! means “Shut your mouth!” Need more slang terms for the mouth? For starters, there’s potato trap, tater trap, tatty trap, bun trap, gingerbread trap, kissing trap, fly trap, rattle trap, baconhole, and cakehole.

Where is Podunk? Grant explains that a columnist in the 1800s used the name for his series called “Life in the Small Town of Podunk,” referring to a generic backwoods American town.

A listener shares a phrase he learned in Peru that translates as “more lost than a hard-boiled egg in ceviche.” It describes someone who’s lost or clueless.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a word game worthy of the Saturday puzzle called “Cryptic Crosswords.”

Is the excessively formal language in “True Grit” (2010) historically accurate? The hosts discuss why the Coen brothers would do away with contractions to set a tone for the movie.

A transplant from Zimbabwe finds the word irregardless annoying and ungrammatical. Grant explains that regardless of its status, “irregardless” is needlessly redundant.

The phrase “Oh, my goodness!” may be a dated way to express surprise or disbelief. A listener asks for a contemporary replacement.

Multiple modals, as in the phrase “I thought y’all may would have some more of them,” have their own logic and are well understood by many in the American South.

The Database of Multiple Modals compiled by Paul Reed and Michael Montgomery is here.

If you call someone a card, it means they’re funny or quick-witted. Grant and Martha discuss the metaphors inspired by the language of playing cards.

What do you serve to a lawyer coming to dinner? A listener shares her riddle for the “What Would You Serve” game?

Have you been asked to trip the light fantastic? This phrase, meaning “dance the night away,” dates back to a poem by John Milton from 1640.

Martha shares the German slang term niveaulimbo, meaning “a limbo of standards.”

Why is the word pound abbreviated lb.? A listener from Tijuana, Mexico, learns that the answer relates to his native Spanish as well as the Latin term for “weighing.”

Martha reads a love sonnet by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Here’s the text of the original Spanish, with an English translation by Mark Eisner.

And here’s a lovely audio rendering of the poem in Spanish.

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17 Responses

  1. Jackie says:

    I confess. I am a two space typist. In my defense, though, I did learn to type on a manual typewriter. That was the standard procedure. I’ve tried using only one space between sentences, but with 30 years of experience the other way, it just doesn’t work for me. A double space is automatic.

  2. Me, too, Jackie. And now you’re bringing back memories of my big, old, shuddering IBM Selectric. I thought the pop-out ribbon cartridge for corrections was SO state-of-the-art. Not these days, though!

  3. Heimhenge says:

    And I thought that little roll of correcting tape you could insert between the paper and type bar was a huge advance over messy correcting fluid (which I swear gave me a buzz when used excessively in a poorly ventilated room).

    Talk about memories, Martha … I got onboard the “computer revolution” early. Maybe 84 or 85. Some business donated an IBM AT to our school when they upgraded to the XT. Nobody at the school really knew really knew (or wanted to learn) how to use it. I taught science and figured I should. So the principal let me take it home to play around with. Figured out the basics in a couple weeks.

    Then came my great moment of discovery. At a local office supply store they had a rack of 5.5″ floppy discs (remember those?) and I found one with an early word processing program called New York Edit. It went way beyond the mono-spaced Courier text you were forced to use in *.txt files, providing rudimentary formatting capabilities and a few extra fonts. As I started using it for writing tests and reports, and got used to the almost magical process of cutting and pasting, typing over errors to correct them, and inserting bold, italic, and underlined text, I realized this software was going to change the way I write. And it did.

    I sold my electric typewriter while it still had some value on the used market and never looked back. Who could imagine living with anything but a word processor these days? And how many kids these days have even seen a typewriter?

  4. Jackie says:

    How many kids have seen a typewriter, Heimhenge? I’d guess, not many. My daughter is in high school and is a fabulous touch-typist. All the letters are worn off her keyboard but it makes no difference to her. I asked her about the double space thing. No, in elementary school keyboarding, they were taught just a single space after the period. She did say some of her middle school teachers requested students to use the double space when writing papers. Some even went so far as to take off points if papers had only the single space! Now she’s determined to dig up a typewriter, so she can try her typing skills out on that.

  5. Ron Draney says:

    Shouldn’t be too hard to find. Every time I’m in either Staples or OfficeMax (there aren’t any Office Depot stores around here any more), there are always two different typewriters on open display. In the old days they would have each had a sheet of paper in them for demonstration purposes, but that little detail seems to have fallen by the wayside.

    I’ve asked the salespeople on a number of occasions, and nobody can remember ever actually selling one. I’ve heard it suggested that they’re still used in offices that use a lot of pre-printed forms with carefully-aligned spaces to type in the information.

  6. Heimhenge says:

    Ron Draney said:

    I’ve asked the salespeople on a number of occasions, and nobody can remember ever actually selling one. I’ve heard it suggested that they’re still used in offices that use a lot of pre-printed forms with carefully-aligned spaces to type in the information.


    Really?! I’m gonna have to make a point of looking for one next time I’m at Staples. I suppose they’d be somewhere in the printer aisle.

    On occasion, I find myself having to fill out a pre-printed form. My handwriting is so bad, after years of using word processing, that when I do get one of those forms I prefer to scan it and fill in the blanks with Corel PhotoPaint using the text tool. Then I print it back to hardcopy.

    This has the added advantage (beyond legibility) of allowing me to change font sizes to fit the required info into the (usually too short) spaces provided. It might require reduction to a 6 point font to fit that stuff in. But hey, if they need to use a magnifier to read what I wrote, maybe they’ll get the message that it’s a poorly designed form. Yeah, right. Who designs those forms anyway? Medical office forms are particularly guilty of not leaving sufficient space for the requested info. It’s one of my pet peeves.

  7. Ron Draney says:

    Grant Barrett said:

    If you call someone a card, it means they’re funny or quick-witted. Grant and Martha discuss the metaphors inspired by the language of playing cards.


    There was an episode of “Petticoat Junction” in which Uncle Joe teases the two old men who run the Cannonball, saying something like “What are you two cards up to? Get it, cards? You two jokers?”

  8. gothamxi says:

    This is why you need two spaces:

    “These resources are aimed at supporting teachers of English outside of the U.S. Printed materials include…”

    That is two sentences that read as one. It looks like U.S. Printed is a proper noun of some sort.

    –Taken from http://exchanges.state.gov/englishteaching/resources-et.html

  9. Heimhenge says:

    gothamxi said:

    This is why you need two spaces:

    “These resources are aimed at supporting teachers of English outside of the U.S. Printed materials include…”

    That is two sentences that read as one. It looks like U.S. Printed is a proper noun of some sort.

    –Taken from http://exchanges.state.gov/englishteaching/resources-et.html


    Totally agree gothamxi. In fact, I posted a similar example in another thread related to the topic of double spaces. Just like putting punctuation marks outside of quotation marks, there are some instances where the writer is forced to “violate the rules” in order to avoid ambiguity.

    That said, the consensus, at least on this forum, seems to put the onus on the writer to say the same thing differently to avoid either ambiguity OR breaking the rules. In your example, by simply spelling out “United States” the ambiguity could have been avoided. Probably too much to expect of any writer working for the government though. And your example did come from a .gov website.

    I have made the transition to single spaces. Took me a couple months to break the habit, but it’s become second nature now.

  10. Ron Draney says:

    Heimhenge said:

    Totally agree gothamxi. In fact, I posted a similar example in another thread related to the topic of double spaces. Just like putting punctuation marks outside of quotation marks, there are some instances where the writer is forced to “violate the rules” in order to avoid ambiguity.

    Or, from the other perspective, there are some instances where “the rules” should have been left the way they were instead of being changed by someone who didn’t think through all the ramifications.

    I have made the transition to single spaces. Took me a couple months to break the habit, but it’s become second nature now.

    Or, from the other perspective, you dozed off and were replaced by another pod person.

  11. Kaa says:

    I learned two spaces while learning typing on a manual typewriter in high school (ca. 1982). And I continued to use two spaces until two things convinced me not to.

    1. I now write computer code. “Whitespace” (spaces, tabs, any non-printing character) is treated as a single entity, no matter how many of them are used. In code, we use tabs or spaces to indent for readability. So when I type “This is one sentence.  This is two,” and use two spaces between them, when HTML renders it, it renders the two spaces as one. Unless you replace one of those spaces with a non-breaking space ( ). Since it is very annoying to type   over and over and over again, I just got used to always using only the one.

    2. I also am an amateur writer (I’m not published, yet). A number of places specifically state in their submission guidelines that they want to see only one space after the end punctuation.

    That second one can be stated thusly: “Consult the style guide of whatever entity you’re writing for. If it specifically says to do it one way or the other, then do it that way.” :)

  12. tunawrites says:

    Kaa, you’re exactly right. One must consult her medium-specific style guide to know whether one space or two is appropriate. I was brought up during the manual typewriter era and taught to type two spaces. Now, one of my highest bosses insists upon two spaces, and the younger attorneys are troubled by this — apparently they learned that one space was proper. These young attorneys are probably struggling (well, not really struggling; after all, two spaces instead of one is a pretty esoteric problem) to accommodate the superiors. However, I can’t remember where I learned it, and neither can my ultimate superior (who is still involved enough in the day-to-day that he notes places missing two spaces between sentences on every pleading, brief, or memo that he has to approve). Mind you, the bible of style-guides, The Chicago Manual of Style, insists one space is the only proper typography, but the two-spacers — me included — are still prevailing.

  13. tromboniator says:

    I’m sorry, but that “… U.S. Printed…” example is kinda bogus. Why would you justify a rule for all cases by an unusual circumstance? Why not add a space if the preceding sentence is not otherwise clearly ended? Why, in a language where “one size fits all” is unheard of, should we have only one way to indicate the end of one sentence and the start of the next? And who’s the authority who gets to establish the standard? I’m right, so it might as well be me.

    Peter

  14. Glenn says:

    I was trained in school on the old manual typewriters, so I am a firm two-spacer in practice. However, I don’t feel the need to enforce that spacing as a rule for others.

    One question I ask myself is, in a language that distinguishes in its typography a hyphen from an em-dash from an en-dash, why is it so hard to conceive of a different spacing for the end of a sentence? To me, any argument for uniform single spacing would be applicable to any number of other typographical distinctions, and vice versa. I suspect that the space question was, in fact, influenced by technology as an aid to text searching.

    Still, maybe we need an en-space and an em-space.

  15. Heimhenge says:

    Glenn said:

    One question I ask myself is, in a language that distinguishes in its typography a hyphen from an em-dash from an en-dash, why is it so hard to conceive of a different spacing for the end of a sentence? To me, any argument for uniform single spacing would be applicable to any number of other typographical distinctions, and vice versa. I suspect that the space question was, in fact, influenced by technology as an aid to text searching.


    Excellent question. Written communication in any language involves consideration of spelling, grammar, punctuation, and typography (no comments about serial commas please, as that’s my style, and I’m sticking to it). Each of those components provide choices, spelling perhaps least so, but even there one has occasional alternatives.

    Typography seems to provide the greatest number of alternatives, style manuals notwithstanding. I see no real problems with using single or double spaces (or both), even in the same document … if you really need to. But I still maintain that ANY sentence can ALWAYS be rewritten to avoid ambiguity while using only single spaces. See my earlier comment regarding that “U.S. Printed” example.

  16. johng423 says:

    I too learned in typing class to put two spaces at the end of a sentence. For computers I was told the two-space rule applies when the font is monospace (not proportional).

    The 6th edition of the APA Publication Manual has some changes in style. The web page “What’s New in the Sixth Edition of the Publication Manual?” points out the following:

    Chapter 4: The Mechanics of Style
    * Punctuation—return to two spaces after the period at the end of the sentence recommended for ease of reading comprehension.

  17. Trevor S says:

    I was taught in my 70s typing class that it was two spaces after a period.

    I was also taught that within a quotation, it was one space after a period.

    Go figure.

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