Because My Mom Would!

I’m not certain how this post is going to go over.

Unbeknownst to the woman who carried me for 9 months and raised me for well over 18 years, an expression I often use in my classroom is, “Because my mom would!”

My mom does not deserve this expression of mine.

I use this expression because my mom started using an Apple Macintosh with fervor about 10 years ago. I cannot remember the make/model of the first Mac my mom bought. My parents have always been fairly early adopters as long as I could remember. We were definitely one of the first families on the block to have an Apple IIe back in the early 1980s and from there they were always updating their technology. My parents are now retirees. My dad carries his iPad on his travels and my mom has a brand new Mac Book Pro in her shoulder bag.

So why do I mock such a wonderful mom (and grand-mom)?

My mom is a doer! She uses iPhoto and iMovie with gusto. She generously burns her family members DVDs of her creative endeavors. Recently she took my decaying wedding VHS, put it on DVD and added great music and still wedding reception photos to it. That was a treat.

The reason I burn the name of my mom in my course lectures is this; she uses a computer for creativity. My mom is not a trained designer. She can write (something I cannot!). She was an English major! She has a Masters of Library Science. There is a huge difference between my mom and my students when it comes to creative choices on a computer. My student are trained to use their computer as tools for their designs. My mom’s creations are designed by her computer.

So when I ask my students why they shouldn’t use Myriad for the headlines in their poster/book/magazine/website designs (not that I don’t LOVE Carol Twombly’s typeface), my answer at first is, “Because my mom would!”

After that outburst, I explain to my students that Myriad is the Adobe CS default typeface and it is also the first typeface a person untrained in design might go-to.

Unfortunately there are a few questions I ask my students like the above with my answer being the same. It is unfortunate that I bash my mom. Overheard it sounds disrespectful. I always remind my students the reason why I bash her — because she is not a designer, but she is a skilled Mac user — and there is a big difference.

I hope that when her ears begin to burn, that my mom knows that using her as an example to my students is really is a nod to how kick-ass she is. My mom is a 1940s baby-boomer who uses a Mac Book Pro with avidity.


Today’s post about my kick-ass mom was spurred by the email chain below.  Many years ago I gave my mom two books, the first was Robin William’s The Mac is Not a Typewriter and the second was Ellen Lupton’s Thinking with Type. My mom read them both — how great is she? Mom, you are invited to audit my Typography class any quarter you want! Cheers to you!

—–Original Message—–
From: Rachele McGinty-Mock
To: ksm
Sent: Wed, Jan 19, 2011 2:10 am
Subject: Re: Slate Article: Space Invaders

Mom, I love it!
I may put it up on alignment logic.
now maybe we can get people to start using proper
“quotes,” apostrophe’s,
prime and double prime marks (she is 5′ 7″)
for their proper use.
Rooms to Go is one of the biggest abusers of quotes instead
of double prime — see their 55” TV ads of late.
also, Oprah has a weak typesetter on staff who always sets things like
Oprah’s Favorite Things —
on her on-screen titles.
how are you doing?
« Rachele McGinty-Mock  || »
—–Original Message—–
From: ksm
To: rachele mcginty-mock
Sent: Wed, Jan 19, 2011 1:43 am
Subject: Slate Article: Space Invaders

KSM has sent you an article from Slate Magazine.Rachele,
You corrected my bad habit years ago, I still have your books!
Love, Mom

Article URL:
Space InvadersWhy you should never, ever use two spaces after a period.
By Farhad Manjoo
Posted Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011, at 6:20 PM ET

Can I let you in on a secret? Typing two spaces after a period is totally, completeely, utterly, and inarguably wrong.
And yet people who use two spaces are everywhere, their ugly error crossing every social boundary of class, education, and taste.*You’d expect, for instance, that anyone savvy enough to read Slatewould know the proper rules of typing, but you’d be wrong; every third e-mail I get from readers includes the two-space error. (In editing letters for “Dear Farhad,” my occasional tech-advice column, I’ve removed enough extra spaces to fill my forthcoming volume of melancholy epic poetry, The Emptiness Within.) The public relations profession is similarly ignorant; I’ve received press releases and correspondence from the biggest companies in the world that are riddled with extra spaces. Some of my best friends are irredeemable two spacers, too, and even my wife has been known to use an unnecessary extra space every now and then (though she points out that she does so only when writing to other two-spacers, just to make them happy).
What galls me about two-spacers isn’t just their numbers. It’s their certainty that they’re right. Over Thanksgiving dinner last year, I asked people what they considered to be the “correct” number of spaces between sentences. The diners included doctors, computer programmers, and other highly accomplished professionals. Everyone—everyone!—said it was proper to use two spaces. Some people admitted to slipping sometimes and using a single space—but when writing something formal, they were always careful to use two. Others explained they mostly used a single space but felt guilty for violating the two-space “rule.” Still others said they used two spaces all the time, and they were thrilled to be so proper. When I pointed out that they were doing it wrong—that, in fact, the correct way to end a sentence is with a period followed by a single, proud, beautiful space—the table balked. “Who says two spaces is wrong?” they wanted to know.
Typographers, that’s who. The people who study and design the typewritten word decided long ago that we should use one space, not two, between sentences. That convention was not arrived at casually. James Felici, author of the The Complete Manual of Typography, points out that the early history of type is one of inconsistent spacing. Hundreds of years ago some typesetters would end sentences with a double space, others would use a single space, and a few renegades would use three or four spaces. Inconsistency reigned in all facets of written communication; there were few conventions regarding spelling, punctuation, character design, and ways to add emphasis to type. But as typesetting became more widespread, its practitioners began to adopt best practices. Felici writes that typesetters in Europe began to settle on a single space around the early 20th century. America followed soon after.
Every modern typographer agrees on the one-space rule. It’s one of the canonical rules of the profession, in the same way that waiters know that the salad fork goes to the left of the dinner fork and fashion designers know to put men’s shirt buttons on the right and women’s on the left. Every major style guide—including the Modern Language Association Style Manual and the Chicago Manual of Style—prescribes a single space after a period. (The Publications Manual of the American Psychological Association, used widely in the social sciences, allows for two spaces in draft manuscripts but recommends one space in published work.) Most ordinary people would know the one-space rule, too, if it weren’t for a quirk of history. In the middle of the last century, a now-outmoded technology—the manual typewriter—invaded the American workplace. To accommodate that machine’s shortcomings, everyone began to type wrong. And even though we no longer use typewriters, we all still type like we do. (Also see the persistence of the dreaded Caps Lock key.)
The problem with typewriters was that they used monospaced type—that is, every character occupied an equal amount of horizontal space. This bucked a long tradition of proportional typesetting, in which skinny characters (like I or 1) were given less space than fat ones (like W or M). Monospaced type gives you text that looks “loose” and uneven; there’s a lot of white space between characters and words, so it’s more difficult to spot the spaces between sentences immediately. Hence the adoption of the two-space rule—on a typewriter, an extra space after a sentence makes text easier to read. Here’s the thing, though: Monospaced fonts went out in the 1970s. First electric typewriters and then computers began to offer people ways to create text using proportional fonts. Today nearly every font on your PC is proportional. (Courier is the one major exception.) Because we’ve all switched to modern fonts, adding two spaces after a period no longer enhances readability, typographers say. It diminishes it.
Type professionals can get amusingly—if justifiably—overworked about spaces. “Forget about tolerating differences of opinion: typographically speaking, typing two spaces before the start of a new sentence is absolutely, unequivocally wrong,” Ilene Strizver, who runs a typographic consulting firm The Type Studioonce wrote. “When I see two spaces I shake my head and I go, Aye yay yay,” she told me. “I talk about ‘type crimes’ often, and in terms of what you can do wrong, this one deserves life imprisonment. It’s a pure sign of amateur typography.” “A space signals a pause,” says David Jury, the author of About Face: Reviving The Rules of Typography. “If you get a really big pause—a big hole—in the middle of a line, the reader pauses. And you don’t want people to pause all the time. You want the text to flow.”
This readability argument is debatable. Typographers can point to no studies or any other evidence proving that single spaces improve readability. When you press them on it, they tend to cite their aesthetic sensibilities. As Jury says, “It’s so bloody ugly.”
But I actually think aesthetics are the best argument in favor of one space over two. One space is simpler, cleaner, and more visually pleasing (it also requires less work, which isn’t nothing). A page of text with two spaces between every sentence looks riddled with holes; a page of text with an ordinary space looks just as it should.
Is this arbitrary? Sure it is. But so are a lot of our conventions for writing. It’s arbitrary that we write shop instead ofshoppe, or phone instead of fone, or that we use ! to emphasize a sentence rather than %. We adopted these standards because practitioners of publishing—writers, editors, typographers, and others—settled on them after decades of experience. Among their rules was that we should use one space after a period instead of two—so that’s how we should do it.
Besides, the argument in favor of two spaces isn’t any less arbitrary. Samantha Jacobs, a reading and journalism teacher at Norwood High School in Norwood, Col., told me that she requires her students to use two spaces after a period instead of one, even though she acknowledges that style manuals no longer favor that approach. Why? Because that’s what she’s used to. “Primarily, I base the spacing on the way I learned,” she wrote me in an e-mail glutted with extra spaces.
Several other teachers gave me the same explanation for pushing two spaces on their students. But if you think about, that’s a pretty backward approach: The only reason today’s teachers learned to use two spaces is because their teachers were in the grip of old-school technology. We would never accept teachers pushing other outmoded ideas on kids because that’s what was popular back when they were in school. The same should go for typing. So, kids, if your teachers force you to use two spaces, send them a link to this article. Use this as your subject line: “If you type two spaces after a period, you’re doing it wrong.”
Correction, Jan. 18, 2011: This article originally asserted that—in a series of e-mails described as “overwrought, self-important, and dorky”—WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange used two spaces after every period. Assange actually used a monospace font, which made the text of his e-mails appear loose and uneven. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

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Farhad Manjoo is Slate‘s technology columnist and the author of True Enough: Learning To Live in a Post-Fact Society. You can e-mail him at and follow him on Twitter.

Article URL:

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