another bad line break

Yerkes, Susan SYerkes at EXPRESS-NEWS.NET
Mon Apr 12 22:09:50 UTC 2004

RE: Arnold Z on line grandmother used to quiz me with them
in my youth, spelling something aloud, but pausing to create the effect
of a misplaced line break. My favorite example was always Toot
Hache, which when thus syllabically divided, sounds like a toot in the
act of hatching.

Actually, I have another question for the list, this more serious.
The only really big new element in the Touchstone movie of the Alamo, as
I understand it, is the manner of Davy Crockett's death.

Alamo historians are still divided over the authenticity of the De la
Pena diary, a fairly recently discovered journal purportedly kept by one
of Santa Anna's officers during the Texian revolution. In the journal,
De la Pena described several survivors of the dawn siege that toppled
the Alamo, and claimed that Santa Anna ordered them executed. If De la
Pena was correct and the journal is authentic, Crockett did not die
swinging ol' Betsy, as John Wayne did.

If that isn't bad enough for die-hard believers in the mythic-hero
version, here's the REAL rub: According to reviewers (I have yet to see
it) Crockett's last words, spoken as Santa Anna's troops are about to
skewer him, are "I'm a screamer."

It seems to me that I've read enough literature from that period, or
perhaps seen enough Davy Crockett movies -- or maybe it's Twain dialogue
--from way back, that the phrase "I'm a screamer" seems to fit right in
with the backwoodsman ethos, along with "I'm a ba'r wrasslin',
alligator-whompin' son of a gun" or words to that effect.
But many of my fellow Texans apparently interpret that phrase as akin to
"I'm a fainter," which has rather different connotations.

I've followed the list's comments on "Deadwood" dialogue and cowboy
euphemism with interest. Please forgive me if the use of "screamer" as a
descriptive noun on the U.S. frontier has already been discussed here.
And thanks for any response.

Susan Yerkes
San Antonio Express-News
San Antonio TX. 78205
210- 250-3455
E-mail: syerkes at
Fax: 210-250-3405

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
Of Arnold M. Zwicky
Sent: Friday, April 09, 2004 10:45 AM
Subject: another bad line break

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 it.

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 unfortunate.

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 else's).

arnold (zwicky at

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