Re: What's a widow?

Subject: Re: What's a widow?
From: Bruce Nevin <bnevin -at- CISCO -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 13 Sep 1996 15:35:30 -0400

A widow is a short line at the end of a paragraph which slips over a page
break to the top of the next page. _The Chicago Manual of Style_ 19.40 (p.
802) says a "short line" is "one word or two or three little ones (some say
anything less than a full line)". (It is also mentioned in 3.46 on p. 120
in a sentence which, ambiguously, might be construed as saying any short
line at the end of a paragraph is a widow, but 19.40 is unequivocal.)
_Words Into Type_ discusses widows on p. 75 and p. 271 as a line of "less
than full measure" at the top of a page.

In a past life writing macros for nroff/troff we referred to the converse
case--a single line stranded at the foot of the preceding page--as an
orphan. I remembered orphans as being left behind, and widows as going
ahead without their consorts. However, this use of "orphan" is not in any
reference that I can now find.

In the same past life, any single line at the top of a page, however long,
was termed a widow, probably because it was too much work to hack a way to
count words or reckon line length. And even though word processors and
desktop publishing systems can handle these measurements, so far as I know
they nonetheless keep two or three lines together either side of a page
break, regardless of line length.

Bruce Nevin

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