Orphans and widows revisited.

finn's picture

I know this has been hashed out a bit before, but not in quite this case:

I've been setting some documents in FileMaker, to export from records. I had neatly made use of all of its (very limited) capabilities to make them not-bad-looking. So I was a little surprised when I was instructed to eliminate widows and orphans – I looked back over the document, found none – and asked again, and was told that I ought to be putting in non-breaking spaces in order to get rid of three-character or less words at the ends of lines. Yeah, lines, not paragraphs or columns or pages. For example:

This is not an acceptable block of text because it
has a first line with a two-character entity at the
end. And a second, whereas the following, third line
is okay because I've carriage-returned “is”.

Has anyone heard of this ? Apart from being maddeningly tedious, is this standard practice? I can't quite figure out the sense of it.

pattyfab's picture

That's strange. I understand if they don't want two characters at the end of a line before a hyphen (in fact I set that up as a preference in H&Js), but a whole word? Never been asked to do that before.

Is the text justified or rag right? If the latter it sometimes looks bad if a short word hangs off to the right but that is certainly not the case in your sample.

timd's picture

I go through my documents to turn them over if, for example, they are on the longest line of a block of text or if there is a ladder of one, two or three character words at the end of consecutive lines, I also prefer to turnover the first word of a sentence if it is short.

The reason is to achieve a smooth rag, but I do hate being dictated to by a bit of software, rebel against its tyranny if you think your setting looks good:)


Edit: I should have mentioned that I normally only do this for ragged right, although ladders are more of a problem for justified text

fallenartist's picture

Never heard of such practice in English (in justified para) but for example leaving single letter words at the end of the line in Polish is wrong (if anyone need such information :)


finn's picture

It is indeed ragged-right.

Maybe it's a vestigial codification of cleaning up the rag.

finn's picture

In any case, though, these aren't "widows" or "orphans", right ?

pattyfab's picture

Technically, no. Neither is a lone word on the last line of a paragraph (even tho it is commonly referred to as such)


Linda Cunningham's picture

What an odd idea, and something I've never run into before either.

The only rationale I can think of, particularly with a ragged right margin, would be if your font size/line length proportion was exceptionally unusual (i.e., small font/long line) where, indeed, you might get an excessive number of two- or three-letter words hanging out consecutively, particularly if there is no hyphenation.

But there are lots of other solutions to that situation too.

Nick Shinn's picture

The logic may be that articles and propositions should not be separated from the following word because that's too much of a "broken meaning clump". This practice would help eliminate that. The worst example is when a two-word phrase is emphasized, either by quote marks or italics, and broken over two lines.

KenBessie's picture

I do this quite often with my ragged right settings. I don't like little words at the ends of lines. The wordspace before the little word is too close to the end of the line and makes the little word look like it's hanging in space. I also like to massage the rag so it isn't quite so ragged, and if that means moving a word down a line even if it fits the measure, I'll do that too. I might even track an individual line a little bit to help the rag.

Also, I agree with Nick's comments.

(They certainly are not called orphans or widows.)

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