Monday, May 11, 2009

Whatchamacallit

Things have names department
On a mailing list this morning, someone asked what to call the typographic device that sometimes appears between sections of text. As I explained in response, embedded in this question are really three questions:

Q. What is the functional significance of a break in text?

A. From a discussion of this point on another list, some rhetoricians refer to it as a hiatus, although I don’t know that there is any standard term. In fiction, it may also be called a scene break. From the point of view of an editor, the question is whether the break in flow is enough different from a paragraph break to warrant its use. Was this intentional on the author’s part or is it an artifact of bad typing or misuse of Word?

Q. What is the name of a break in text?

A. I’ve always called it a text break. (I’ve been involved with typesetting in one way or another since about 1960 and don’t recall where I learned this term.) I’m not aware of any other name for it, and if I ever was, I’ve forgotten it. From the point of view of an editor marking up text, it’s a text break, and you can safely call it that. Design is irrelevant.

Q. What is the design element used to represent a break in text?

A. The book designer (typographer) may specify a simple space, such as a one-line space between paragraphs, generally followed by an unindented paragraph. Other choices are a space followed by a drop cap paragraph, something unobtrusive such as a single large bullet or a row of three asterisks, or any sort of ornament (dingbat in compositor’s argot) such as fleurons, tailpieces, and so forth. The designer should be sensitive to the look and feel of the overall book: if the chapter openings are modest, it would be silly to have elaborate and decorative text breaks. From the editor’s standpoint, though, once the design choice is made and approved, the only concern is the proofreader’s interest in seeing that they are implemented as planned.

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