Q: What’s the correct spacing for dates like "c. 1748" in English?

Gunnar's picture

Hi everyone!

My question: What’s the correct spacing for dates like "c. 1748" in English typography?

I’m talking about British English, Akzidenz Grotesk font, InDesign, and "c" is italicized. The editor suggests no spacing at all, which looks odd to me (but I’m German, so what do I know) and gives me trouble with the large amount of space around Akzidenz Grotesk’s figure "1" (that is, "c.1077" and "c.908" look wildly different in spacing when set without any space at all).

Thanks for letting me know about your take on this.

riccard0's picture

You could set the spacing for |1| to Optical instead of Metric, or in any case adjusting it in order to make it behave a little better in running text.
Then I would insert a punctuation space, or a thinner one, between the period and the |1|.
But I’m no expert on British style-guides either.

Thylacine's picture

If I understand correctly, you're running into a problem with tabular figures. The numerals in most fonts all have the same width to facilitate lining them up in tabular columns. This creates spacing problems when the numerals are used within blocks of text — especially where there's a 1 involved — where proportional spacing would work better. If it were me, I'd just adjust the spacing so that it looked right.

As for whether or not there should be a space between the c. and the date or whether or not the c. should be italicized, I'm not sure what is most common in British English, but I suspect that it's more a matter of style than anything. I'd need to check the Chicago Manual of Style or the Associated Press Styleguide, but in the U.S., I think the most common style is to not italicize the c. and to place a space between it and the date that follows. Again, though, it really doesn't matter as long as you're consistent about it.

Michel Boyer's picture

In the entry for circa the OED online http://www.oed.com puts no space and no period, with c italicised

often used in English with dates, as circa 1400 (c1400)

Nick Shinn's picture

In most fonts, the default figures are tabular, so /1 will have copious sidebearings—although some tabular fonts do have that glyph with a wide foot serif/baseline crossbar.

The options are:
1) A font with default proportional figures
2) An OpenType font with alternate figures that are proportional
3) A font with a wide-looking tabular /1
4) Manual or “Optical” kerning

Joshua Langman's picture

The typeface matters here. I would set c. in italics if it were a serifed face with a nice italic — but not in Akzidenz Grotesk. Either way, you need a space after the c. (American English), at least in running text, and if possible in tables etc as well.

Gunnar's picture

Thanks a lot for all your comments!

@riccard0
Optical kerning is a possibility. Still it looks strange to me, put so close together. At least it would be consistently close this way …

@Thylacine
I think manual spacing will not be possible, but InDesign’s optical kerning might do it well enough. I’m also feeling that some kind of spacing is the most common. I’m gonna ask the editor whether he’s following some guideline. Consistency within one book is the most important thing, true, but consistency in all books of the same language doesn’t sound too bad, either. (Just me, dreaming.)

@Michel Boyer
Now … that’s the fourth way of doing it. Thanks a lot for letting me know about you finding!

@Nick Shinn
Thanks for your advise. Actually my options are scarce in this situation since the design was decided upon before I came into play with this project …

@Joshua Langman
Well, yes … but most editors don’t care about typefaces or looks.

In the end I have settled with this: With just the "c" italicized it looks odd, but with the "." italicized, too, there is a tiny little more room between the "." and the first number of the year, maybe comparable to a hair space in InDesign. I will do it this way because if later somebody else works with the document he/she might not understand a GREP style of optical kerning just for "1", so this is simple and good enough for this messed up situation.

JamesM's picture

> I’m gonna ask the editor whether he’s following some guideline.

The editor is probably using a style guide which calls for no space. You might be able to insert a tiny space, but my experience has been that the project manager usually follows the editor's advice in these things.

Bert Vanderveen's picture

Use a NON-breaking space after c. — this will prevent awkward separation at the end of a line.
In InDesign there are 2 varieties, the better one (sorry, the one I prefer…) has Fixed Width — you may have to define a keyboard shortcut for it.
Also: Grep is your friend, it allows to change all instances of c-dot-space-anyglyph to c-dot-fixedspace-anyglyph.

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