‘The’ shortest word ever hyphenated (possibly)

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The Economist, 18 December 2021.

Richard Hollick started working for Cambridge University Press in 1965 and remained there in various capacities for 29 years in London, Cambridge, and finally New York. He then switched sides, and worked for Oxford University Press in New York, retiring in 2013. His daily blog Making Books is full of great stuff, especially for people from his generation, like me.

He recently spotted possibly the most egregious example of automatic hyphenation, in a copy of The Economist, no less, and shown above. As he says in the accompanying post, with a sigh, all the established editorial authorities don’t actually forbid you to take over a single letter — because nobody would dream of doing such a thing. But automatic H&J programs which don’t have minimum character numbers specified may well resort to this.

Once again, old crusties like me mutter into our metaphorical beards and say it wasn’t like that in our day. This is principally because the human element has been taken out of the make-up of typeset text. A long time ago, I came across a description of how a traditionally trained Linotype compositor worked:

[He] knew, remembered and observed a set of rules for splitting words. He had to be ready to decide who to ‘turn the line over’, how to deal with word breaks, how much white space was tolerable between words. This decision-making influenced his setting from the first character of the line till the last. (Cynthia Cockburn, Brothers: Male Dominance and Technological Change, 2nd edition, Pluto Press, 1991.)

A fine explanation of exactly what is now missing.