another bad line break

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Fri Apr 9 15:44:59 UTC 2004

from Gabriel Schoenfeld's review of Bobby Fischer Goes to War, by David
Edmonds and John Eidenow, NYT Book Review 3/28/04, p. 15, reproduced
here as printed:

        Instead of subservience to the authorities,
Spassky relied upon his prowess over the chess-
board to obtain what he wanted amid the scar-
city of planned economic life...

very hard not to read this as "scar city" the first time around,
especially given the break in the middle of "chessboard" right above

i've started to collect these bad line breaks ("semi-otician" was the
previous example) because of my interest in the advice literature.  a
central generalization of the advice literature is that you should
avoid doing things that would cause a (well-intentioned) reader or
hearer to pause in processing: garden paths, unintended alternative
interpretations that are easily available, unusual spellings, and so
on.  this is excellent (though not very specific) advice.  in actual
practice, however, the literature sometimes focuses on minutiae that
only someone primed to seek out violations of a "rule" would get hung
up on (like the order of right quotation marks vis-a-vis commas and
periods), and fails to catch other things that really do impede
processing -- like ornamental capitals in printed material and bad line

even a lifetime of experience with ornamental capitals doesn't keep me
from taking them as mere artwork on occasion, which leads me to misread
what follows: an article apparently begins "HEN Martha Burke...", but
that makes no sense, and then i see the great big W, four lines high,
that precedes the rest, and i realize that the first word is actually

(some) publications are willing to make us work a bit with these
ornamental capitals because the layout folks think they're beautiful.
they're willing to sacrifice some ease of processing for esthetic

as for line breaks, the value that's balanced against ease of
processing is ease of composition: it's easy to have line divisions
done mechanically, by reasonably sophisticated software.  (the decision
to set type in relatively narrow columns -- another esthetic
consideration -- also gives rise to the need for many word-internal
line divisions.)  so unless some eagle-eyed human being scans the final
typeset copy with line breaks in mind, some of them are going to be

it's an old story: there are many considerations at play, and they are
necessarily opposed to one another in some circumstances, so there's no
way to win on every score.  you have to try to strike a balance, but
the results will always be less than perfect.  you'll have to settle
for something that, in your judgment, is good enough, or even as good
as it can get (and your judgment might not accord with everybody

arnold (zwicky at

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