Monday, October 05, 2009

Editorial Tip of the Week: Trading Long Division for Word Division

We've all probably encountered and conquered (hopefully) the white space caused by writer's block. That stark, blank page that makes writers cry, cringe, run, or take a swig of their favorite alcoholic beverage. We all know the hardships of that white space. But what about the other types? Say you're writing a great line, something truly inspired of course, and you
suddenly are forced to drop onto the next line because of space. (Like that visual example, folks? Thought you would.) Now, there's that horrible jolting white space. You know it can be remedied with a simple hyphen, but how? Often something that seems simple may become complicated by a word like knowledge or criticism. Words as "tricksy" as they come.

What was that? Pull out Chicago? Okay, we're getting there already!

I'll have you know that sometimes even Chicago does not have all the answers. Shocking right? Deep breaths. "For end-of-line breaks, as for spelling and plural forms, Webster should be the primary guide. The dots between syllables in Webster indicate where breaks may be made; in words of three syllables or more, there is usually a choice of breaks."

However, there are some hard and fast rules that you can stick to. For instance, single-syllable words should never be divided. Also, "one-letter divisions are not permissible." So, if you were planning on writing like that a-gain, don't.

Chicago does let us know it has an opinion, even if they aren't the foremost guide. The manual recommends "dividing according to punctuation." In doing so, our tricksy term knowledge becomes knowl-edge as opposed to know-ledge.

The Big Orange also suggests dividing after a vowel as long as it does not affect the pronunciation. Thus, criticism should be "criti-cism" not "crit-icism."

For compound words, prefixes, and suffixes, you are actually encouraged to just do what feels right and divide at the "natural breaks." Any displeasure with this freedom becomes "dis-pleasure" not "displea-sure."

Now if you come across a gerund (didn't you know that was what a form derived from a verb that functions as a noun is called? hmmm...), you may divide "before the ing." "Dab-ing, run-ing, fiz-ling." You get the picture.

That is that. For continued fun with hyphens, see 7.30 - 7.45 in your Chicago manual and say bye-bye to ugly white space!

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