Two Spaces Are Better Than One.

Avi Selk reports in a (cleverly formatted) article in the Washington Post on a study by Rebecca L. Johnson, Becky Bui, and Lindsay L. Schmitt that settles an old question once and for all:

“Typing two spaces after a period is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong,” Farhad Manjoo wrote in Slate in 2011. “You can have my double space when you pry it from my cold, dead hands,” Megan McArdle wrote in the Atlantic the same year. (And yes, she double-spaced it.)

This schism has actually existed throughout most of typed history, the writer and type enthusiast James Felici once observed (in a single-spaced essay). […]

Enter three psychology researchers from Skidmore College, who decided it’s time for modern science to sort this out once and for all.

“Professionals and amateurs in a variety of fields have passionately argued for either one or two spaces following this punctuation mark,” they wrote in a paper published last week in the journal Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics. […]

And the verdict was: two spaces after the period is better. It makes reading slightly easier. Congratulations, Yale University professor Nicholas A. Christakis. Sorry, Lifehacker.

OK, I was just kidding, I know perfectly well this won’t settle anything once and for all; for proof, see the long and contentious MetaFilter thread. You single-spacers aren’t going to change your ways any more than we double-space-forever types are. I’m posting this to give aid and comfort to my beleaguered cohorts: SCIENCE is on our side. (Thanks, Eric!)

Comments

  1. In the internet age, the typesetting has to be a cooperative project of the writer and the reader. The writer can decide which fonts (and other stuff) they want to use, but the viewer may instruct their browser to overwrite the settings (after all, as a reader, I won’t concede the font size to anyone). Which makes it an easy, but somewhat interesting programming problem, to write the reader-side soft which implements reader’s preferences for blanks no matter what the writer thinks of the matter. One of the quirks might be different conventions for proportional and monospaced fonts. It seems like two blanks in monospaced, one blank in proportional is some people’s preference judging by a recent LL thread.

  2. David Marjanović says:

    SCIENCE

    Failure of peer review, more like. I trust you’ve seen how the experiment was designed?

    xkcd […] 1989

    [sql̩ʶ] forever.

  3. Marja Erwin says:

    For me:

    – humble.
    – J like in year. I used to pronounce it dzjif, before I found that the developer said “it’s pronounced jif.” I have to block animation to use the web, and hate the use of animated gifs and animated pngs.
    – I don’t know what that meant.
    – G’d.
    – I have forgotten what that looked like.
    – skwil.
    – 1.

  4. xkcd is everything that’s wrong with kids/society today.

  5. David Marjanović says:

    Has anybody actually reanalyzed SM(D)H or OMG, or are those just included humoris causa?

  6. Ironically, browsers systematically discard multiple consecutive spaces, like the ones between the words of this sentence. So unless you are at pains to use the Unicode non-breaking space character.  Like this.  You never see double spacing on the Web.

  7. Has anybody actually reanalyzed SM(D)H or OMG, or are those just included humoris causa?

    Randall and I must be reading the same articles. I posted a poll on my journal about IMHO and several people commented that they thought SMH meant “so much hate” until they looked it up. More people said it after I posted the comic link!

    As for the G in OMG, some people consciously read it as “gosh” every time, because reasons.

  8. This kind of analysis could be easily conducted on a massive scale on the internet by timing questionnaires or reading comprehension tests (using many different fonts, with and without the extra spaces added, etc.). It is amazing that it hasn’t actually been done like this.

  9. Thank you for the link, David Marjanović. This is the money quote:

    “Fur­ther­more, the re­searchers only tested sam­ples of a mono­spaced font on screen …. They didn’t test pro­por­tional fonts, which they ac­knowl­edge are far more com­mon. Nor did they test the ef­fect of two-spac­ing on the printed page. The au­thors con­cede that any of these test-de­sign choices could’ve af­fected their findings.”

    As anyone who has followed this debate knows, two spaces after a period has NEVER been the standard for proportionally spaced type. Historically, all fonts were proportionally spaced and one space was used after the period. Then the typewriter was invented, and because each key width had to be the same for mechanical reasons, typescript was monospaced. The convention of two spaces after a period was invented because monospaced fonts suitable for typewriters (like Courier) has a lot of white space between letters and it can be hard to associate the period with the prior sentence.

    But then word processing replaced the typewriter and the Courier font became obsolete. Along with it, so did two spaces after a period.

    if you want the documents you produce to look like 1960s secretarial work, then use Courier and two spaces. If want it to look like typeset work, then use a proportional font and one space. But using a proportional font and two spaces is like eating Thai food with chopsticks.

  10. Courier is by no means obsolete. I and most programmers use monowidth fonts for computer code, and this is even the usual convention in books on programming.

    Noodle dishes, which are Chinese in origin, are eaten with chopsticks in Thailand when they are served in a bowl. (Otherwise its spoons, spoons and forks, or fingers, depending.)

  11. I work in a consulting company where we produce lots of (English and German language) documents (presentations, reports, white papers etc.) for our customers. Part of the quality assurance process is to run “search – exchange” over the documents to remove double spaces, which tend to creep in unintentionally. So you won’t see double spaces after a period there.
    And I’m not sure whether this is a thing in Germany at all – I don’t remember hearing anything about using double spaces after a period at school or university, and I encountered that discussion only on the English-speaking internet.

  12. Lars (the original one) says:

    I think this was called ‘English’ vs ‘French’ spacing in Emacs settings back in the day. If it was even settable, I think there was a time when reflowing text would always put double spaces after a period.

  13. David Marjanović says:

    “so much hate”

    Huh.

    And I’m not sure whether this is a thing in Germany at all – I don’t remember hearing anything about using double spaces after a period at school or university, and I encountered that discussion only on the English-speaking internet.

    Same for me. I’ve seen double spaces in printed scientific publications (using proportional fonts) from the early 20th century in English, but not in any other language. As I said on LL, I can’t remember reading anything about double spaces even in my mom’s typewriting textbook (1960s or earlier).

  14. Typefaces are supposed to be kerned for optimal spacing based on a single space after a period. When using such fonts, double space after a period is anathema to the intentions of the type designer.

  15. In a similar vein, German type (aka Fraktur) used s p a c e s between letters of a word for emphasis within a text. This works well with Fraktur, but looks odd in Antiqua (ie. the non-German, regular “European” typefaces that are on your computer screen now). Nevertheless, the practice seems to have somehow carried over into Croatian typesetting. So much so, then when emphasis is needed, it is more likely to be done with spaced letters rather than by italicising the words. Or perhaps this was the standard typesetting practice before Microsoft Word. In Word, it is much easier to click on the “I for Italics” than it is to try to use the letter spacing setting by selecting: Format – Font – Character Spacing – Expanded.

  16. Stu Clayton says:

    Double_space : single_space == aluminium : aluminum

    The extremes of proportion here are caprice. The means of the proportion are adequate to their job.

    Concept of proportion

  17. As anyone who has followed this debate knows

    Nothing in the paragraph that follows this lead-in is true; double-spacing goes back to the 15th century, as you’d know if you’d read the Felici essay linked in the post. We double-spacers may be stubborn, but we’re not Johnny-come-latelies.

  18. ə de vivre says:

    It seems like there are two things at play: There’s the fashion of whether or not word spaces and sentence spaces should have different default widths in justified typeset text, which is connected to other fashions in how much white space (margins, word space, leading) is desirable. Maybe it’s significant that the long 19th century tended toward more white space around the letters in general is desirable (probably related to the large counters of the then-fashionable Didone typefaces). These days, having a uniformly intermediate text block (not a solid dark tombstone completely separate from the page, not a series of plow lines each distinct from the one above and below) seems to be a strong desideratum, and exaggerated sentence space makes that effect difficult.

    But e-mails and term papers aren’t (usually) typeset documents. And as much as I love getting self righteous over issues with no stakes at all, maybe longue durée history doens’t have much to do with our personal space-bar ticks.

  19. David Marjanović says:

    In a similar vein, German type (aka Fraktur) used s p a c e s between letters of a word for emphasis within a text.

    This was also done in Fraktur (at least as far back as the early 19th century) and remained German practice for most of the rest of the 20th century; my mom still does it in Skype chat.

    (It comes with   t r i p l e   spacing between words.)

  20. @D.O. That would be an interesting but difficult project. Going from double spaced to single spaced is trivial as `period-space-space` only ever happens at the end of a sentence. But, thanks to abbreviations often being followed by a period, going the other way is significantly more difficult. It requires a full parse of the language to do well. After all, abbreviations occasionally occur at the end of a sentence, and need a double space. This can be tricky to detect.

    Ultimately, this little fact is the reason that I prefer double spaces in my manuscripts. It means that any software I write can easily distinguish between abbreviations and the ends of sentences. Of course, once I feed that manuscript to a HTML, LaTex, or other typesetting engine, I can expect that the double spaces won’t appear in the output, thereby making single spacers happy.

    As for reading, I probably prefer double spaces there as well, but it is less important. I am not as likely to be using a computer to parse the text I am reading, and the brain doesn’t have that problem dealing with ambiguities.

  21. @Marja Erwin: I can’t tell if you are joking with this:

    J like in year. I used to pronounce it dzjif, before I found that the developer said “it’s pronounced jif.”

    However, assuming that you are not, the GIF file type/extension was apparently intended to be pronounced like /dʒɪf/, which is an English speaker like Steve Wilhite (creator of the format) would typically write phonetically as “jif.” The alternative pronunciation (with a hard, rather than soft g, in English parlance) would be /gɪf/.

  22. Marty, I didn’t think about that. A quick hack can be to make two spaces after the period and before the capital letter. Than there is a possibility to look up words in lists etc., but you are right, trying to override people’s decisions about formatting is bound to lead to some unpleasantness. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea, after all. But than if people do really feel strongly about this stuff…

  23. I did recently see someone analyzing SMH as “slapping my head”, but I can’t remember where.

  24. David Marjanović says:

    A quick hack can be to make two spaces after the period and before the capital letter.

    Except I or any proper name.

  25. Language Hat: NOTHING in what I wrote is true? How about the part where Felici agrees 100% with my point that two spaces makes sense for monospaced but not for proportionally spaced fonts:

    “On a typewriter, using two word spaces after a period makes sense and is, in fact, typographically the right thing to do. That’s because typewriters use monospaced typefaces, in which every character has the same width… Characters in monospaced typefaces look weird, forced by mechanical necessity onto a Procrustean bed. Some — like the M — look pinched, while some are grossly expanded — such as the i or l. Side bearings for narrow characters such as punctuation marks have to be puffed up. The overall effect of such type is very airy and open and its spacing is poorly modulated.

    “So for the same reason that double-spacing typewritten lines is the norm, using two word spaces after periods is, too. It’s a question of balancing the white space bound up in each character with the spaces around them. In addition, a single word space simply lacks the visual impact to cue the reader that a sentence has ended. The punctuation mark alone, in short, isn’t enough to punctuate the texture of the type flow.

    “When using proportional typefaces everything is different. Each character can be designed with its familiar historical proportions and has its own unique width. The texture and color of each line of type is much more even. In these faces, the word space is part of the team, proportioned to work individually, creating a spacing break between sentences that’s neither jarring nor too wimpy.

    “So there’s no need, except when using monospaced faces, to double the word space after sentences. In fact, good type color and balanced spacing argue against it. But clearly, from a historical perspective, there’s no reason that such doubling should be banned, either. The problem with doing so these days is that it looks like a mistake. We’re not used to seeing these white holes peppering the page, so the wider spaces look inappropriately large.”

    So how about this – I will give you the history as per Felici, and you give me the monospaced vs. proportionally spaced distinction, also as per Felici . Then we both adopt the Felici proprosal to use two spaces when typing with monospaced fonts (i.e. never) and one space when using proportionally spaced word processing.

  26. As I said before, “never” is just false.

  27. So how about this – I will give you the history as per Felici, and you give me the monospaced vs. proportionally spaced distinction, also as per Felici .

    Sure; obviously I was exaggerating that nothing you said was true, but I was annoyed you were repeating an old canard.

    Then we both adopt the Felici proprosal to use two spaces when typing with monospaced fonts (i.e. never) and one space when using proportionally spaced word processing.

    Nope, I’m sticking with my two spaces. But everyone should feel free to space as they like!

  28. I was surprised to see LaTeX mentioned here by someone supporting the idea of using the same amount of space between words as between sentences. I haven’t used LaTeX in a couple of decades, but when I did, by default it used more space between sentences than between words, and special markup was needed after an abbreviation to let it know that the period was not the end of a sentence. I’m not sure how much bigger the intersentence spaces were than the interword ones. I doubt they were twice as big, so the LaTeX position is probably somewhere between the one-space and two-space camps.

  29. With LaTeX, the amount of space at the end of a sentence can be, like all features of the layout, customized through the style files used. The default is to use somewhere between one and two stand-alone spaces (which is also the standard in WYSIWYG software packages designed for professional quality layout).

    In the LaTeX source, spaces between words or sentences are indicated by either a single carriage return, or any number of space characters. (Multiple consecutive carriage returns, yielding one or more blank lines, indicates a paragraph break.). LaTeX identifies the ends of sentences pretty well, by ending punctuation marks (possibly followed by closing quotes). However, to deal with abbreviations, it assumes that a capital letter before a period is not the end of a sentence, unless you insert an extra command to tell it otherwise. (Over the weekend, one of my colleagues went through a manuscript we had ready for resubmission, to make sure every period that needed to be marked in this case way was correctly handled. He complained that the parts of the LaTeX I had written were harder to read, since I ended every line with a return. The reason I do that is that my LaTeX typically has a lot of complicated math in it, and that is much easier to debug with short lines, since the LaTeX error messages always indicate the line number of the errors.)

  30. Yeah, Ars automagically corrects posts to single space, but I use double habitually as well. When I read a book set up for single instead of double spacing, it really feels jarring, as well.

  31. Noetica says:

    [This refers to the comment that follows it; the blog software lost the original posting:]

    McArdle, we learn from Wikipedia, ‘has described herself as a “right-leaning libertarian” ’, and she was “born and raised in New York City”. Her “reason” for using double spaces?

    The brainless software here changed the kinds of quote marks I used with the words has described herself as a right-leaning libertarian. I typed, of course, double quotes around the whole and single quotes around right-leaning libertarian. This beautifully illustrates the sorry state of the art when technonerds make blog software.

    And I was given approximately sixty seconds to find a workaround! What happened to my fifteen minutes?

  32. Noetica says:

  33. Noetica says:

    And now it has changed my it[apostrophe]s to its! And again it gave me waaay less than fifteen minutes to edit. Sorry, I’m out of here. Bad for one’s professional reputation.

    And yet again, the software LOST my original comment! Here it is:

    … when you pry it from my cold, dead hands

    That neatly expresses the meta-problem. The most steadfast, unrelenting, and unhearing resistance to calls for rational reform very often comes from our US friends. Whether it is the carcinomic proliferation of lethal weapons, miserly and discriminatory health care with capricious or opaque terms of entitlement, antique units of measurement that deliver multi-million-dollar failures in space exploration, or basic text conventions, your firmest diehards hail from the Home of the Brave. This is not opinion, just evidence-based observation. Once Convention (American apple-pie orthodoxy) has decided, that’s pretty well it – no matter how ill-founded its quirky deliverances may be. At least for non-professionals.

    The pervasive capriciousness comes to light whenever we see the Chicago Manual of Style eventually falling into line with international best practice. For example, when it decided that a comma or a period coming directly after italicised text should not, after all, be itself infected with italics. No explanation for a sudden access of good sense, any more than the supplanted decree was ever supported with reasons.

    McArdle, we learn from Wikipedia, “has described herself as a ‘right-leaning libertarian’ ”, and she was “born and raised in New York City”. Her “reason” for using double spaces? Just this:

    “I double space after sentences because I learned to type on a manual typewriter, and it’s not worth the effort to retrain myself.”

    At least she’s honest! But let us observe, equally honestly,* that laziness is not an argument. Nor is the typewriter-bound practice of an inveterate blogger a prescription for sound textwork.

    Nope, I’m sticking with my two spaces. But everyone should feel free to space as they like!

    Yep, you are (and with your gun too, right?); and we should all indeed feel free – within and without the Land of the Free. But let our free choices be informed and deliberate.

    In only one of the thirty comments above is there mention of justified text, which is what we generate much of the time when we use, say, Word. This consideration is at least as relevant as talk of proportional versus fixed fonts, and it makes nonsense of any distinction, in the final product, between double and single spaces. Somewhat as in Felici’s earliest examples, spaces stretch in ways that strike the eye oddly. If the justified text must sometimes fit into a narrow column (next to an inserted textbox perhaps), double spaces stretch absurdly even as the nearby single spaces stretch a little. The same happens if there are long items in the text (URLs that one doesn’t want to break, oversize names of organic compounds).

    Going from double spaced to single spaced is trivial as `period-space-space` only ever happens at the end of a sentence.

    No Marty, because you’d also get these before double spaces:

    !
    ?
    !)
    .)
    ?)
    .”
    .’
    !”
    ?”
    .³ [marking a footnote or endnote]

    And so on. Informed and deliberate, mmm?

    * honestly
    honesty
    honest
    hones
    hone
    one
    on
    O!

    [And this time it gets the quotes right. Too skittish by an order of magnitude. Hat, please feel free (yes!) to delete all of my comments. I can’t contribute where the software is so flawed.]

  34. David Marjanović says:

    Huh, I always get the 15 minutes, and the formatting of quotes is limited to the change from straight to typographic.

    test “test ‘test test’ test” test

    entitlement

    Careful with that word, it’s pretty much become a slur over there.

    justified text, which is what we generate much of the time when we use, say, Word. This consideration is at least as relevant as talk of proportional versus fixed fonts, and it makes nonsense of any distinction, in the final product, between double and single spaces. Somewhat as in Felici’s earliest examples, spaces stretch in ways that strike the eye oddly. If the justified text must sometimes fit into a narrow column (next to an inserted textbox perhaps), double spaces stretch absurdly even as the nearby single spaces stretch a little.

    True.

  35. David Marjanović says:

    Quotes formatted as expected, I get the full 15 minutes, and it’s is unchanged except again for formatting of the apostrophe. The problem has to be on your end. Is your spellchecker particularly aggressive?

  36. Noetica says:

    No, I never have any problem remotely resembling these ones. Latest Mozilla Firefox; well-maintained Windows 7 Professional, set up for daily professional editing work. Mysterious indeed. But I won’t be back till I can be sure this blog software behaves properly. The problems occurred, then did not occur, then … I just don’t know! Is it something in my text or my formatting? I thought that was all simple enough. The software should be error-repellent, just as I always try to be.

  37. Yep, you are (and with your gun too, right?)

    WTF? I was going to welcome you back, but you seem to have turned into a blowhard spewing insults in place of rational discussion since you were last here.

  38. Noetica says:

    No insult there. Just robust querying of orthodoxies and ingrained habits of thought and practice. The saltiness of my language simply matches, with rhetorical intent, the opinionated tenor of the material adduced in your post, some of which you appear to endorse without giving sufficient reason. It is intended to prompt reflection, not reflex rejection or defensive and gratuitous insult in return.

    From the outside, the marks of US culture include those I list in my comment. I express these in evaluative terms that I can support with argument. I am free to do so, just as others are free to promulgate ancient prejudices concerning how language is to be presented in written form.

    Sorry if my free and deliberate choice and unflinching standing of my ground offends. I know the feeling!

  39. I strongly prefer italic commas and semicolons after italic texts. The spacing between the last letter and the punctuation mark looks better.

  40. The most steadfast, unrelenting, and unhearing resistance to calls for rational reform very often comes from our US friends.

    No doubt. But we seppos don’t care for being all tarred with the same brush, any more than Ozites like being thought of as all ockers, hoons, wowsers, or drongos.

    Sorry if

    That is not an apology.

  41. Noetica says:

    Not meant as an apology. Nor is anyone tarring anyone with the same brush, as a less trigger-happy reading of my actual words will show.

  42. Maybe you shouldn’t have expressed yourself so obnoxiously if you didn’t want to have to deal with such responses and expectations of apology.

  43. Noetica says:

    In the eye and ear of the recipient, obnoxiousness. I see nothing to apologise for. What did I say about you in particular, Hat? In the single response I made to you above, I agreed with you: yes, you will indeed stick with your two spaces; and, I thought and asked, with your gun (which I seem to recall you mentioning, some years ago here). Are you sensitive about something here?

    I have been insulted many times on his blog, including by you. And most unfairly. We all have to live with such noisome ripples in the discursive surface.

    Sorry [sic] if heterodoxy, along with a very considered critique, offends.

  44. As Dr. Google will confirm, the only guns of his that the Hat has ever referred to here are his big dictionaries.

  45. Noetica says:

    Dr Google retrieves this:

    language hat says:
    April 1, 2007 at 2:00 pm

    Though I try to avoid politics as much as possible in this venue, I will say that I too am in favor of the right to bear arms. Here’s a nice selection of quotes on the subject. But then, I’m an anarchist, so we all know I’m crazy anyway.

    Had my memory (that’s 11 years ago) or my faculty of interpretation failed me? If Hat does not own a gun, then perhaps there is some case for an apology. But remember: I checked with him, in my wording:

    Hat: Nope, I’m sticking with my two spaces. But everyone should feel free to space as they like!

    Noetica: Yep, you are (and with your gun too, right?); and we should all indeed feel free – within and without the Land of the Free. But let our free choices be informed and deliberate.

    Nothing for anyone to be ashamed of here, in any case.

  46. David Marjanović says:

    …In this kind of context, it was really hard to read “right?” as anything other than a purely rhetorical question.

  47. Noetica says:

    I think not, David. That “… right?” is short for “is that right?” or “am I right?”, right? My question was not equivalent in force to the statement “you are sticking with your gun too”. That would have been far more presumptuous.

    But the context is rich in attempts at rhetorical effect. What chilled me and prompted my comment was in the text Hat brought for discussion:

    You can have my double space when you pry it from my cold, dead hands

    This invocation of the unrelenting evidence- and argument-proof stop-at-nothing gun lobby is a rhetorical and a political move. It is abhorrent, to many of us outside the US. As discussed in earlier threads, if memory serves yet again. The different reception of such an invocation in US and non-US portions of the anglophonosphere interests and sometimes alarms me, and I wanted to raise it – relevantly, I thought and still think – in this thread.

  48. David Marjanović says:

    This invocation of the unrelenting evidence- and argument-proof stop-at-nothing gun lobby is a rhetorical and a political move.

    I took it as an obvious half-joking exaggeration. The phrase has become very common in this function.

    I’m outside the US myself, far enough so that I never even considered that our esteemed host might have a gun.

  49. ə de vivre says:

    Over the weekend, one of my colleagues went through a manuscript we had ready for resubmission, to make sure every period that needed to be marked in this case way was correctly handled. He complained that the parts of the LaTeX I had written were harder to read, since I ended every line with a return.

    This may be solving a different (non-existent) problem, but at least in TeXShop, you can have the editor display invisible characters like spaces and line breaks.

    I think one-or-two spacing has become so contentious (aside from the fact that the people with an opinion about it are predisposed to argue about minutiae) because WYSIWYG word processors like Word have blurred the line between typeset and not-typeset documents. The questions of how “many” spaces isn’t particularly meaningful, especially in the era of digital typesetting, in a document that’s being typeset. The more relevant questions are “how much word space” (1/3-em, 1/4-em?), and whether or not to add more to sentence spacing. Then there’s the question of how much stretch to give to the spaces for the purposes of justification, which, in some cases where the positive stretch is sufficiently large, can make the difference in default word–sentence spacing visually unimportant.

    As an aside: this may be a function of the circles I run in (and the circles my mind runs in too), but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone use “cold dead hands” with a subtext other than “what a fucking nut Charlton Heston was.” But the only guns I own are my inalienably possessed biceps… that and my penis; even the most oblique references I make to the existence of violence clearly come (cum?) from my pathological inability to separate violence from sexuality. Vive la phallarchie!

  50. “Though I try to avoid politics as much as possible in this venue, I will say that I too am in favor of the right to bear arms.”

    If Hat does not own a gun, then perhaps there is some case for an apology.

    Really? That was your assumption? So if I support the right to abortion, you would assume I have had one? I am even less convinced of your intelligence and/or intellectual honesty. For the record, I have never owned (or even touched, as far as I remember) a gun, and no one with any sense or good intentions would make such an assumption.

  51. ə de vivre says:

    Also, who are these people outside the US who know enough about the NRA and Charlton Heston to know the source of the “cold, dead hands” reference, but are also totally unaware of the life of the phrase after that speech?

  52. Alien: “Drop your weapon.”

    American: “You can have my rifle” etc. etc.

    Alien: (thinks a bit) “Your proposal is acceptable.” (Zaps American with raygun, takes rifle)

  53. Charlton Heston was certainly fond of the phrase as president of the NRA (who just announced, by the way, that their next president would be Oliver North). However, it was a well-known slogan well before that. In fact, the way typically Heston used it, omitting the, “You can have this gun when you pry it,” assumed prior familiarity with the expression.

  54. J.W. Brewer says:

    The best data we have (which may not be that great) suggests that approx. 70% of adult Americans have fired a gun at least once in their life-to-date. It seems quite plausible to assume the percentage would be a bit higher among males and perhaps higher among older males than younger males although the first source I googled up didn’t offer that breakdown. So I personally find it at least modestly surprising in an actuarial kind of way that hat has never even touched one, although there’s still a pretty low limit to how much one should rhetorically wager on the assumption that it is *inevitable* that hat would have had a life experience that is extremely common, yet still not universal, for an American male of his generation. And obviously there’s a big difference, both conceptually and statistically, between “has some amount of personal experience shooting guns” and “currently owns a gun.”

    https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/how-many-americans-have-never-shot-a-gun/

  55. I have shot guns a few times, but I would never consider owning one. At Boy Scout summer camps, the campers had to pay to shoot: a quarter for five shots with a .22 rifle, or a quarter (a shilling?) for one shot with an old-fashioned muzzleloader. (The ultimate trick with the black powder rifles, which I actually saw somebody do, was to shoot a ball at an axe blade that cut the bullet in two, with each of the pieces hitting a target farther back.). When I worked at camp, the staff were allowed to shoot for free, within reason, and that was how I got most of my shooting experience. And since the summer when I was fifteen, I don’t think I have once handled a loaded firearm.

  56. I wouldn’t be surprised that esteemed Hat owned a gun and wouldn’t think better or worse of him either way. Just like some people do not care how many blank spaces someone inserts between the sentences, there are people (not necessarily the same set) who do not much care about who owns guns.

  57. January First-of-May says:

    On the XKCD list, as far as I’m concerned:

    – leaning toward “honest”, but I think I use both
    – G as in gift
    – I have no idea what SMDH even is… makes me think of the CMDF and the SRMD
    – leaning toward plain “god”, but wouldn’t have a problem with “gosh” – and if it was “giantess” it would’ve been GTS
    – blue and gold, or rather light blue and light brown, exactly what it looks like
    – ess-queh-ell, “queh” as in “quest”, though I like the idea of “squill”
    – and yes, one space after a period

    No comment on the gun debate (except that I agree that giving even more people guns is unlikely to result in less school shootings).

  58. Oliver North? That’s not a joke?
    Well, at least he has proven experience in the arms trade…

  59. @Hans: Yeah, a number of commenters around the Web have pointed that qualification.

  60. Taking IMHO as ‘in my honest opinion’ loses the ironic effect of IMAO ‘in my arrogant opinion’.

    CMDF

    Automatically, Grant put words to the initials. “Centralized Mountain Defense Forces,” he muttered, “Coastal Marine Department Fisheries.”

    […]

    “I assume you have observed our insigne, CMDF.”

    “Sure have.”

    “Do you have any idea of what it means?”

    “I’ve made a few guesses. How about Consolidated Martian Dimwits and Fools. I’ve got a better one than that but it’s unprintable.”

    “It happens to stand for Combined Miniature Deterrent Forces.”

  61. J.W. Brewer says:

    Now I’m mildly curious as to what percentage of currently-living Americans have shot a black-powder muzzle-loader. It’s not trivial (beyond those like me and Brett who might have done so in a scouting type of context, I think there are some jurisdictions where there’s an “extra” deer hunting season where only muzzle-loaders are allowed, which incentivizes those who chafe at the restricted scope of “regular” deer season to try the archaic technology as well), but I doubt it’s in double digits.

  62. Noetica says:

    Really? That was your assumption?

    No. Did you assume it was? I thought I had explained: The loosely and parenthetically applied notion came from a possibly faulty recollection of something posted eleven years ago, which I immediately sought to check with you. Fleetingly, in the course of making a point about irrationally based practices and unshakable convictions. In any case, your mere support of the so-called right to bear arms, given its devastating consequences for your country, might have been sufficient to give the rhetorical effect I was after.

    The rest of your response is extraordinarily insulting and unworthy of you. But alas, not untypical. I have been, as I say above, insulted here many times before. There are reasons for not frequenting the place. I also suggested, for those who read, that insults are not to be taken too seriously. So I don’t; and if you insist on deeming yourself insulted I suggest you take it calmly also, as a worthy host of worthy guests – rather than resorting to questioning my intellectual capacity as a reflex first resort.

    Why do I take pains to express myself with care, if even here the message read is not what is written?

  63. Although I think it’s obvious to me and most long-time participants here, I’ll say it explicitly. Language Hat owes its unequalled long success to its host. It wouldn’t be where it is if not for his remarkable tolerance and broad-mindedness, but equally for his clearly demarcated limits and bluntness in enforcing them. You’re doing the right thing, Hat.

  64. Why do I take pains to express myself with care, if even here the message read is not what is written?

    If you don’t understand that it is you who came in here spoiling for a fight, rhetorical fists swinging, I can’t help you. But it’s always amusing how tender bullies and xenophobes tend to be — the first sign of pushback and they start whining about how they’re being picked on.

  65. Noetica says:

    Who is a bully? Who is a xenophobe? Who is prey to excess in description of interlocutors, quick judgement, and an insidious essentialism?

    I’m posting this to give aid and comfort to my beleaguered cohorts: SCIENCE is on our side.

    Who, above, is “looking for a fight”? It’s easy for you to win in this place, Hat. No surprises there. But I did not come looking for a fight (as you proclaim); I saw what amounts to an invitation to a fight.

    Who takes it for granted, it seems, that his raillery will be seen as good-humoured badgering, but appears unable to take what has been repeatedly spelled out as rhetorical and non-literal in return, with diffident checking in the mix also? Have I broken some rule of the game? Must be a fairly arbitrary line that I crossed, I think.

    Who supports a “right” to bear arms? (And who on the other hand always resists such perilous abstractions that bring concrete catastrophes?) It is you who adduced material that aligns a harmless enough but similarly persistent “right” in making text. You advocate both. But clearly we’re both sticking to our guns – right?*

    I spent a lot of time at this place, and contributed as I could. I joined convivially and (some have thought) resourcefully in many complex discussions and playful diversions; and I helped defuse a couple of awkward confrontations. Have I behaved ungenerously?

    Then I left, returning briefly about once a year. This is not a place I enjoy any more. Make of that what you will. I am always happy to cede the floor. And to vanish.

    * Do I need to spell out the tropes and allusions in this? Such things appear to have been missed in the twist of the thread.

  66. David Marjanović says:

    To “from my cold, dead hands”, compare “over my dead body” or its German version nur über meine Leiche.

    I have no idea what SMDH even is…

    Shaking my damn head.

    IMAO

    Huh, I only knew IMNSHO (“…not so…”)

    bullies and xenophobes

    My impression of Noetica is quite different: someone even more autistic, and therefore even more literal-minded, than I. I can’t begin to describe the experiences I’ve made with people not even considering the idea that I might mean what I say and not mean what I don’t say.

  67. David Marjanović says:

    Who takes it for granted, it seems, that his raillery will be seen as good-humoured badgering, but appears unable to take what has been repeatedly spelled out as rhetorical and non-literal in return, with diffident checking in the mix also? Have I broken some rule of the game? Must be a fairly arbitrary line that I crossed, I think.

    Er, yeah. I stay away from good-humoured badgering, and the unpredictability of where the lines might be is one reason why.

  68. The rest of your response is extraordinarily insulting and unworthy of you. But alas, not untypical. I have been, as I say above, insulted here many times before. There are reasons for not frequenting the place.

    Speaking solely for myself: by all means do not frequent the place, or even rare it, if this is a specimen of your 2018 behavior.

    I also suggested, for those who read, that insults are not to be taken too seriously.

    That’s for the insultee to say, not the insulter.

  69. I basically agree with Y above. Sarcasm is a dangerous thing on Internet (we don’t know each other personally, might not have enough of shared experience yada-yada) , but it’s kinda dull without a bit of sarcasm. So my rule is use it, but if someone gets offended, say sorry and move on. Works for me. Not everyone should be the same

  70. Lars (the original one) says:

    I think the XKCD joke was that SMH is not “shaking my head.” Other sources point to “so much hate.” Operationally the same statement, much of the time.

    I can bear witness that IMHO was “humble” back in the day. But this is language, maybe it is “honest” now.

  71. David Marjanović says:

    Other sources point to “so much hate.”

    Yes, that’s the reanalysis.

  72. I saw what amounts to an invitation to a fight.

    Well, that was purely in your head.

    My impression of Noetica is quite different: someone even more autistic, and therefore even more literal-minded, than I.

    Huh. I hadn’t considered that; if it’s true, then I apologize to him for treating him in an inappropriate way. But if he’s going to respond that way for whatever reason, it’s possibly best for all concerned that he not hang out somewhere where he’s likely to both experience and cause so much tsuris. I’m pretty sure it’s not my “raillery” that’s the problem, because nobody else seems to have difficulty with it.

  73. Stu Clayton says:

    an insidious essentialism

    We have a common foe, Dr. Noe !

  74. Stu Clayton says:

    Uh-oh, maybe I should clarify that the foe is insidious essentialism.

  75. Noetica says:

    Well, that was purely in your head.

    Hat, do you doubt for a moment that I could counter your continued insults with evidence from the history of this blog? And with forceful argument, and combative moves such as you, in front of your home crowd, fling as you see fit? If so, that is your own imagining; but beyond doubt there would be a claque to endorse it for you. In that way, and others, we differ. Sad, that difference and unusual dissent seem impossible for some commenters to deal with fairly and dispassionately.

    But I’m not surprised. As I noted above, there are reasons for staying away (heh: people have more than once wished for me to return, in other threads).

    How would you respond, Hat, if your most recent abuse were directed at you instead?

    Did I impugn your intellect? Did I say you “whined”? Did I say you “spewed” anything? Did I call you a xenophobe? A bully? Did I label your approach “obnoxious”? Do I discuss in a web forum the conjecture that you are autistic? Did I deliver a verdict that some tentative conclusion you reached on plausible grounds was “purely in your head”?

    You once said a failing of Geoff Pullum was (in effect) that he could dish it out but couldn’t take it. Difficult sorts of entities, humans.

    I am as dismayed as anyone with this turn of events. I neither blame anyone nor feel blameworthy. But it’s a dismal day when what is written is not read, and what is explained is not understood. Tragic, when what is nuanced, considered, but unfamiliar is – with an alacrity more characteristic of the reptile brain than the neocortex – pounced at as other and therefore a threat.

    That’s me, all done. Best wishes to all! Read this at least: I choose not to rise to any further insults. After all, they usually say as much about the issuer as the recipient.

  76. “I also suggested, for those who read, that insults are not to be taken too seriously. So I don’t….”

    you don’t say?

    “I have been insulted many times on his blog, including by you. And most unfairly.”

    The hobgoblins are always at work in the Land of Noetica.

  77. ə de vivre says:

    My impression of Noetica is quite different: someone even more autistic, and therefore even more literal-minded than I.

    Do people on the autism spectrum usually to get so angry and emotional so quickly when confronted with mutual incomprehension? Back when I was tested for autism, a big reason they rejected the diagnosis was that I was quite good at arranging narratives with emotional content. And Noetica seems to be very adept at constructing narratives full of emotion-based motivations without much input from the people they’re constructing those narratives about.

  78. Lars (the original one) says:

    @David, I clearly read what I wanted in that XKCD. Now I wonder what comes after swallowing, if the rest of the phrase is fixed it’s a feat of very little feasibility.

    Now one I had to have explained is “orz”.

  79. Schwa: It’s very variable, that’s why they call it a spectrum. I have been reading a book called Not Even Wrong (no connection with string theory), which is both a memoir about the author’s son and a biography of Peter the Wild Boy, an early example of profound autism. Peter makes the son look neurotypical; the son makes my grandson look neurotypical; my grandson makes the author look neurotypical, and the author makes me look neurotypical. And yet.

    Specifically: Yes, my grandson does get angry when confronted with mutual incomprehension. He has selective (miscalled “elective”) mutism, and when the TALK switch is off and someone wants him to talk, he will grow angry, burst into tears, or even tantrum if the pressure is high enough. When the switch is on, he will talk — indeed, lecture.

  80. David Marjanović says:

    Well, that was purely in your head.

    Hat, do you doubt for a moment that I could counter your continued insults with

    Erm, Noetica, this time the shoe is exactly on the other foot, and you are overinterpreting what (it seems to me) is a mere statement to the effect of “you misinterpreted that” as another insult. Sure, “in your head” has often been used both ways, but in this case I gather from the context that it’s meant the harmless way here.

    Do I discuss in a web forum the conjecture that you are autistic?

    …I’m on the autism spectrum myself, and I like it there, so I offered this hypothesis* as an attempt to explain what may be going on. Do you seriously categorize that as an insult?

    * “Speculation” is not quite right, judging from your highly literary style of writing going back many years.

    Do people on the autism spectrum usually to get so angry and emotional so quickly when confronted with mutual incomprehension?

    We don’t know how the rest of Noetica’s day has been. 😐 Also, very little can be generalized across the entire spectrum.

    I, for one, am quite capable of “constructing narratives full of emotion-based motivations” when I try to overcompensate for the fact that I normally don’t.

    orz

    Never seen that. What does it mean?

  81. David Marjanović says:

    when the TALK switch is off

    *lightbulb moment*

    That might explain why I routinely “forget to switch my vocal cords on” when I’ve been alone for hours and am then expected to engage in greetings or similar speech rituals: I speak, just not necessarily audibly…

    In other ways, I’ve thrown people into confusion and emotional turmoil by being both more and less normal than they expect – at the same time.

  82. From Urban Dictionary:

    It is a Japanese based [I suppose this means “from Japan” rather than “in Japanese”] emoticon of a man pounding his head on the floor.

    The o is the head. The r is the arms. The z is the legs. Used to symbolize the emotion of frustration.

    “Our puller is a complete n00b… he just pulled a soldier crawler and now we have three adds… orz…”

  83. David Marjanović says:

    Makes sense!

  84. Now I wonder what comes after swallowing, if the rest of the phrase is fixed it’s a feat of very little feasibility

    I assumed “swallowing my damn head”. The joke is that her interpretations aren’t supposed to be plausible. Also, that suggests that the reanalysis being referenced is “slapping my damn head”, not “so much damn hate” (which would necessitate her spelling out the entire phrase).

  85. For me, the TALK switch is pretty much always on, but the LECTURE switch is only barely under my control. Geeksplaining.

  86. Lars (the original one) says:

    orz sort of fits in with a small set of very simple ASCII “emojis” that are not smileys in the traditional sense. Things like o/ for “Hi!” and \o/ for “Yay!”. This feels different from the strange and wonderful “extended smileys” that use East Asian characters, enabled by the ubiquity of Unicode — they are more like the ASCII swords and roses that would adorn news articles in the dawn of the information age, in that there is much more room for variation and individual preference.

    EDIT: Unicode “donger” for your delectation: ヽ༼☉ل͜☉༽ノ

  87. There’s also the name of the dockless bike-sharing company ofo.

  88. Trond Engen says:

    ō¿ǭ

  89. ̄\_(ツ)_/¯

    (“…and coming up next: The Kirby Dance”)

  90. ̄\_(ツ)_/¯

    That’s long been a favorite of mine; imagine my surprise and delight upon finding it in print, on p. 45 of this week’s New Yorker!

  91. Ah, that article is online — do a search on “That’s researcher for” and you’ll see it.

  92. Bathrobe says:

    I used to type double-space on a typewriter. I now type single-space on a computer. Not sure why I changed over. Maybe I read it somewhere. It wasn’t hard to change my habits.

    But inspired by the controversy over spaces, I think it might be time to assert my individuality by using French-style spaces before punctuation. Like this ! I’m sure that if I go back far enough in English I can find precedents to justify my decision. What do you think Hat ? Is this a good idea ? (Yeah, that’s supposed to be a non-breaking space. How do I do that in LH comments ?)

  93. Stu does that once in a while, and I think other commenters who have absorbed European ways have done so. You do a non-breaking space with basic HTML: & nbsp ; (but without those spaces).

  94. David Marjanović says:

    European ways

    In- and outside of LH, I’ve seen Britons, a few Germans and Stu do it, but other than that it’s more or less exclusively French, and has begun to decline even there.

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