News flash: widows are older than orphans
This raises a couple of questions, and in the course of the discussion, we resolved one of them. The original meaning of widow (in the typesetting context) is the last line of a paragraph carried over to the top of a page. An orphan is the opposite—the first line of a paragraph stranded at the bottom of the page. This is the general consensus among old-time compositors.
However, the Gregg Reference Manual, which has been the standard secretarial handbook for decades, got the definitions reversed. This led to Microsoft getting the definitions backwards in Microsoft Word. As a result, a lot more people have the definitions wrong way round than have them in the traditional order. (The latest edition of Gregg, locking the barn door after the horse is gone, has reversed course and made the correction.)
But the more interesting question that arose is this: When did the term orphan first enter typesetting argot? A few of us have been looking, and so far, we’ve found widow defined in references from before 1980, but we’ve found no references to orphan that old. In theory, those of us involved in this discussion are old enough to remember when we first heard the term, but we’re also old enough to imagine we heard it many years earlier than we actually heard it.
Further, looking at examples of fine printing from before 1970, pages may be devoid of widows but there seems to have been no effort to eliminate orphans, suggesting that nobody gave the notion much thought before the advent of computerized page makeup.
So here’s your challenge: If you can find a printed definition of or reference to orphans in a typographic context from before 1990, respond in the comments with the citation. There are at least three people who are wasting time on this question, and we’d all like to be doing something more productive. Earliest citation wins a lifetime half-price subscription to this blog. (That’s lifetime of the blog, just to be clear.)