"Widows” and “orphans” are words (or short lines) at the beginning or end of a paragraph that appear at the top or the bottom of a column or page. The term “widow” originally applied to both and has been cited in print since at least the early 1900s. “Orphan” (at the bottom of a column or page) has been cited in print since at least 1979, when computer word processing programs began offering “widow and orphan control.”
There are several colorful “widow” and “orphan” sayings that have developed. “Kill the widows” has been used in newspaper editing since at least the 1920s and “kill widows and orphans” since at least 1986. “A widow has a past, but no future” and “An orphan has no past, but it has a future” have been used since at least the early 1990s. Another saying is that one should look up to a widow and look down to an orphan.
Wikipedia: Widows and orphans
In typesetting, widows and orphans are words or short lines at the beginning or end of a paragraph, which are left dangling at the top or bottom of a column, separated from the rest of the paragraph. There is some disagreement about the definitions of widow and orphan; what one source calls a widow the other calls an orphan. The Chicago Manual of Style uses these definitions:
. A paragraph-ending line that falls at the beginning of the following page/column, thus separated from the rest of the text.
. A paragraph-opening line that appears by itself at the bottom of a page/column.
. A word, part of a word, or very short line that appears by itself at the end of a paragraph. Orphans result in too much white space between paragraphs or at the bottom of a page.
Remembering the terms
A common mnemonic is “An orphan has no past; a widow has no future” or “An orphan is left behind, whereas a widow must go on alone”.
Another way is to think of orphans as generally being younger than widows; thus, orphaned lines happen first, at the start of paragraphs (affecting and stranding the first line), and widowed lines happen last, at the end of paragraphs (affecting and stranding the last line). Orphaned lines appear at the “birth” (start) of paragraphs; widowed lines appear at the “death” (end) of paragraphs.
LSU Grok Knowledge Base—Tech Terms Glossary
Definition: Widow Control/ Orphan Control
Use the Widow/Orphan Control command to prevent Word from placing the last sentence of a paragraph at the top of a page (widow) or the first sentence of a paragraph at the bottom of a page (orphan).
(Oxford English Dictionary)
orphan, n. and adj.
Typogr. A word or line undesirably separated by a page break from the paragraph to which it belongs. Freq. attrib. Cf. widow n.1 3d.
1980 Office Dec. 120/2 Elimination of widow and orphan lines.
1990 WordPerfect Ref. 655 When the last line of a paragraph appears alone at the top of a page it is called an widow. When the first line of a paragraph appears alone at the bottom of a page it is called an orphan. Some dictionaries and style books call both types of lines a widow.
1991 Which? June 354/3 With widows and orphans control you can make sure that paragraphs aren’t split awkwardly.
(Oxford English Dictionary)
Typogr. A short line at the end of a paragraph, esp. one which is set at the top of a page or column, or which contains only (part of) one word, and is therefore considered unsightly.
[1904 Man. Rules Compositors S.S. McClure Co. 25 All running heads are to be set one nonpareil from the body, unless otherwise instructed. Care must be taken to overcome ‘rivers’, and to this end indiscriminate division of words is allowed. Care should also be exercised to overcome ‘widdies’ at the top of pages.]
1925 G. M. Hyde Newspaper Editing (ed. 2) ii. 89 Use expressions that will not offend readers‥if the slugs slip into print.‥ ‘Kill widow’‥may be misunderstood.
1932 P. Van D. Stern Introd. Typogr. ii. 15 When a single word runs over, it is often desirable to alter the copy‥so that the words can be run back. Single words standing in a line are called ‘widows’.
1948 Bull. N.Y. Public Library Jan. 3 Early in 1936, H. M. Lydenberg‥began a quiet, and not quite humorless, investigation into the origin and identity of the typographical ‘widow’, that awful slattern of the printed page.
Some Facts Every Author Should Know
By William R. Kane
Highland Falls, NY: Book Hill
Make this estimate in this way: On a page of the manuscript that has lines of dialogue, paragraph breaks, short or “widow” lines, long paragraphs, and short paragraphs in the proportion that you think usual in the manuscript, that is ...
That’s why we kill widows. These pertinent comments regarding “widows” refer to display ads and not to books, magazine articles, or any format where a large amount of text is used.
The American Family Physician
For example, editors regularly “kill widows,” send copy to the “morgue” or cause an illustration to “bleed in the gutter.” We also use “tombstone” headlines and we occasionally “bury” a story. All very grim.
30 April 1979, Computerworld, “Too Many Options May Spoil Word Processing,” pg. 10, col. 2:
For example, one Lexitron customer insisted on a feature called a widow-orphan control. The feature, which prevents a single line from being printed at the top of a following page, is quite useful on multipage documents.
Handbook of Management for the Growing Business
By Carl Heyel and Belden Menkus
New York, NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold
Higher-level versions of automatic pagination will also “kill widows and orphans “— that is, they will make sure that no page begins with the final short line of a paragraph or ends with the beginning line of a new paragraph.
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Word for Windows
By Jennifer Fulton
widow/orphan A widow is the last line of a paragraph and appears alone at the top of the next page. If the first line of the paragraph gets stranded at the bottom of the page, it is called an orphan. Just remember that an orphan is left behind.
How to Make Your Writing and Design Work—Together
By Brian R. Alm
Chicago, IL: Ragan Communications
Open season on widows and orphans Designers are a vicious breed: they love to kill widows and orphans. Those nasty short lines at the ends and tops of columns are anathema to them.
Google Groups: comp.text
From: (Roy Johnson)
Date: Mon, 30 Jan 1995 09:21:18 +0000
Local: Mon, Jan 30 1995 3:21 am
Subject: Re: Widows and Orphans
A Widow has a past but no future. It is the last line of a paragraph set at the top of a page, especially the left-hand page of a multi-column layout. Widow lines are generally avoided.
An Orphan has no past, but it has a future. It is the first line of a
paragraph, set alone at the bottom of a page, especially the right-hand page in a multi-column layout. You can read column for page here, incidentally.
You Don’t Say
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Our vanishing heritage
Posted by John McIntyre at 9:37 PM
You asked for it: some terms — hardly an exhaustive list — retrieved from newspaper lingo before these endangered print artifacts vanish like the passenger pigeon and the copy editor.
Aug 20, 2009 01:01 PM
I always like the term “widow” as in, a very short line of type, and the expression “Kill the widows” (eliminate the widows in a paragraph) makes me smile.
Aug 20, 2009 03:35 PM
In printing generally, a widow is the last line of a paragraph that appears at the very top of a page, and an orphan is the first line of a paragraph that appears at the very bottom of a page. Both are considered faults in typography, and automated layout systems have “widow and orphan control” to prevent them by inserting judicious amounts of extra leading between the lines.
Aug 20, 2009 08:06 PM
A mnemonic device to remember the difference between widows and orphans: You look UP to look out the WINDOW at widow. You look DOWN at the little orphan child. Widows = UP. Orphans = DOWN.
Yeah, I know: Charles Dickens.
The Book Designer
Pagination Styles: Shall We Kill the Widows & Orphans?
by Joel Friedlander on October 20, 2010
Because there are so many paragraphs, there’s a kind of random distribution that happens in books. If you get to the bottom of a page and there’s only room for one more line, and that line is the first line of a paragraph, you will have an odd look at the bottom of that page. This is a widow:
On other pages, just the last line of a paragraph may bump to a new page, leaving a stub of a line at the top. That’s an orphan: ...
New York City • Media/Newspapers/Magazines/Internet • (1) Comments • Monday, February 27, 2012 • Permalink
No doubt that this terminology is excellent. I really like that!