Off-topic Touch "typists" (was Re: TeX)

From: Addison Phillips (
Date: Thu Aug 19 1999 - 16:36:38 EDT

The problem is that touch-typing classes "over here" (at least when I went
through them, which is some years ago now) have historically used
typewriters (remember them?;-) and used to teach that you hit the space-bar
two times after sentence-ending punctuation.

It would be nice to say that this practice is going away, but secondary
educators (both of my parents are such) don't have the budgets and computer
skills to teach people "keyboarding". I understand that touch-typing is
still taught with typewriters in an appallingly large number of places. In
fact, "computer literacy" and the ability to touch-type are actually
considered as separate skills somehow (?!?). Typing is taught as a method of
transcription from hardcopy to hardcopy, something unnecessary since the
days of Haloid, more-or-less. These ingrained "pattern" skills result in
huge numbers of otherwise completely functional adults double-spacing when
they should not after the closing period. But then, my father, who learned
on manual typewriters, still hits the keys on his keyboard about a thousand
times harder than required too..... ;-)

Desktop publishing types have HOWLED in awful pain for a long time about
this ancient practice, which, as Michael points out, has no place in the
modern (computerized) world, because DTP software is NOT adjusted for this
nonsense (at least it didn't used to be). TeX is an *exception* (according
to other posters on this thread, as well as your message, Markus) and
apparently does the right thing if it ignores the number of whitespace
characters and adjusts in the way that traditional typography (as opposed to
typewriting) dictates.


-----Original Message-----
From: Markus Kuhn []
Sent: Thursday, August 19, 1999 12:51 PM
To: Unicode List
Subject: Re: TeX (was: apostrophe etc.)

Michael Everson wrote on 1999-08-19 17:37 UTC:
> >TeX goes even beyond Unicode at least for one interesting special
> >character: TeX distinguishes between normal spaces and spaces after a
> >sentence. The latter are allowed to grow a bit larger during paragraph
> >formatting (unless the \frenchspacing option is activated which
> >prohibits this), and according to at least US typewriter rules are
> >represented by a double space on typewriters (not so Europe).
> Good gods, what a horrible "solution". The _problem_ is that when they
> learned to type people (mostly North Americans) didn't learn the detail
> that there really _aren't_ supposed to be two spaces after a full stop, it
> is only TYPED there with MECHANICAL TYPEWRITERS on PAPER to help someone
> else actually set the page. In the modern world of electronic publishing,
> whether on one's own desktop or another's,

I am not entirely sure, I understood the above paragraph completely and
part of the last sentence seems to be missing. I have observed that many
mechanical typewriter users in the US write two spaces after a full-stop
at the end of a sentence. I know several pieces of software that have
algorithms hardwired into them that makes use or support this habit. The
corresponding behaviour in TeX and GNU Emacs can be deactivated by
European users with "\frenchspacing" and "(setq sentence-end-double-space
nil)" respectively. I don't know, what the various US typographical style
guides precisely recommend here. What exactly is the bad training
problem that you refer to?

TeX doesn't handle spaces just as an ordinary character. The paragraph
filling algorithms of TeX are considerably more sophisticated than
anything else I have seen in the publishing industry so far. It has a
whitespace object called "glue", which is like a rubberband that has an
adjustable elasticity associated with it. The glue after a comma
stretches at 1.25 times the rate of glue between adjacent words; the glue
after a fullstop, question/exclamation mark, or a closing quotation mark
stretches even 3 times the rate. (TeXbook, chapter 12, page 73).

More information on TeX's line-breaking algorithm can be found in

  D. Knuth, M. Plass: Breaking Paragraphs into Lines. Software
  Practice and Experience 11 (1981), pp 1119-1184.

which has been reprinted recently in

  Donald E. Knuth: Digital Typography. Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  ISBN 1-57586-010-4. <http://www-cs-staff.Stanford.EDU/~knuth/dt.html>


Markus G. Kuhn, Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge, UK
Email: mkuhn at,  WWW: <>

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