In the current trend of publishing, both online and in print, you may or may not have noticed the practice of placing 2 spaces between two sentences has been abandoned.  Today only one space is used.  Is this laziness or truly a case of where it’s no longer needed?

Do a quick search online for double space and you’ll find tales of two spaces being used between sentences originating due to typewriters not having good font spacing, or kerning.  You’ll also find a great deal of complaining about the ‘unnecessary’ extra space between sentences in older texts being converted for online use.  It’s almost reached a level of extreme hatred.  I can only shake my head in wonderment at the things people get high blood pressure over these days.  But I digress.

‘Back in the old days when I was kid…’
In all seriousness, everything I read as a youth had this double space separating sentences.  Books, mimeographs (that’s the precursor to photocopies for you youngsters), newspapers.  I think people even tended to hand write letters that way.  Frankly, having the sentences spaced out a bit makes reading a much easier task.  It adds a nice open feel which seems to somehow make the document breathe.  I much prefer it, to the point of finding documents without the extra space very tedious to read.  So why has this practice been almost completely abandoned?

With the advent of the internet and web sites came the screen rendering language of HTML, which is still the underlying rendering code in web sites today.  For what ever reason those brilliant guys that created HTML made it so that any space character more than one was ignored.  Type 12 spaces and it shows up as a single space on a web page.  Why?  I have no idea.  But it sure made fine tuning the spacing of things a little difficult at first.  After a time they built in a special character you could use in your HTML that would force the display of as many spaces as you desired.  Obviously being able to have multiple spaces together was missed.  The only caveat is you have to know what that special HTML character is in order to use it.  You can’t simply press the space bar and get it.  Today, the rules are still the same.  HTML still ignores all spaces after the first one without using the special character.  There are a range of positioning options today especially with CSS that have greatly enhanced the visual layout of sites and so the lowly space character has become far less important than ever.

The Missing Space
I’m not an editor or proofreader or English major.  I’m sure anyone in these professions might be able to elucidate the reasoning behind dropping the extra space.  My own guess is as our culture transitioned from print to online it was too much trouble to retain that extra space that HTML ignores.  Call it laziness, or maybe not realizing there is a way to have it there, or perhaps people were tired of fighting the HTML limitation on this.  No matter the reason, we simply adapted to it not being there.  And today people believe and argue it shouldn’t be there.

Well… I miss it and want it.

Apparently I’m not alone because there’s a solution for it for WordPress.  A nifty plugin called Extra Sentence Space by Scott Reilly.  The description reads simply: ‘Force browsers to display two spaces (when present) between sentences.’, and it works beautifully.  Thank you Scott!  It’s super easy for anyone to install and all you need do is activate it.  It simply works.

Another Option
Not to dismiss Scott’s brilliant plugin but I have another solution to this quandary.  What brought me to this concept was time developing my own plugins as well as custom themes for various WordPress installations.

Recently I decided I needed to optimize a few sites and coax WordPress into loading a bit quicker.  By it’s very nature WordPress isn’t prone to quick loading.  Let’s face it, no heavy coded, database driven site could ever reach the load time of a plain, static HTML site.  However it doesn’t do too bad.  That is unless you have a lot of plugins installed or a really heavy theme with large graphics and it’s own programmatic hoops to jump through.  I loathe heavy sites.  Especially sites with mountains of code that serve no purpose other than enabling lazy developers.  But that’s another post for another day.

Admittedly I had been lax in optimizing a few WordPress installations for load time, so now was the time.  In reviewing things I was able to reduce graphic file sizes and code clutter in themes which helped.  I then turned to plugins to see if there were any I could eliminate.  Plugins can be a heavy burden on a WordPress site, each one causing extra processing time and adding to the load time.

In my review I considered Extra Sentence Space.  There was no doubt I wanted that extra space.  But my forays in to theme building have taught me that often times there is a simple solution to a formatting issue by using a quick theme function.  Correctly displaying double spaces is a formatting issue.  You might ask, isn’t adding a function to your theme adding more processing that adds to the load time?  Well yes, in fact it does.  However if a simple function could do the same task as a plugin it’s far less overhead on the WordPress system.  And in this case, there is a solution.

For those of you who are familiar with theme functions and desire that extra space, add this to your theme function.php file:

function c3_display_dbl_spaces($content){
	return preg_replace("/(.|\?|!)( {2})/", "\\1  ", $content);
add_filter( 'the_content', 'c3_display_dbl_spaces', 20 );

It’s a simple regular expression to find every instance of double spaces after a period, exclamation mark, or question mark in a post as it’s calling it from the database.  It replaces those two spaces with one space followed by the HTML special character for a space, and then sends it to the browser.  It doesn’t edit the database, only changes it as it’s being called by the browser.  NOTE: there is a space in front of the {2}.  At first I used \s instead but ran into trouble in some posts when tabs and new lines were converted to double spaces.  The last line after the function tells WordPress to apply the function to the content in the post and assigns a lower importance to it (20) so any other functions that need to run go first.

I Hope one of these options helps you get your missing space back!

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