Word division /Trennung

Word division does not play the same part in English as it does in German. German words are very long. Germans learn at school how to divide words. English (and American too, I imagine) children do not learn the rules of word division. We do not divide words in handwritten texts – it looks really odd in English.

I first encountered word division when I used a typewriter. I have given it up now. I prefer a ragged right margin. Many lawyers, English and German, like to justify both margins (Blocksatz). Then, especially in German, you get ‘rivers’ making the page look torn apart. When I overwrite a client’s file in English, I preserve the justification but turn off the automatic word division.The only time word division is forced on me is when, like today, I get the proofs of a booklet or book from the German publisher and get the wonderful chance to correct the divisions. There wasn’t anything really horrible – in the past I’ve had things like chan-ce or create-d. But there were several divisions at the end of a page, and the word stucco appeared several times as stuc-co (it shouldn’t be divided). Perhaps I should have stuck to plaster. – And all the inverted commas were German!

Some things worth knowing about word division in English:

1. Don’t do it in handwriting.

2. The rules in British English and U.S. English are different.

3. Don’t trust Microsoft Word to divide correctly. What’s more, it apparently uses the same word divisions for U.S. and British English.

I made a very superficial test just now – I copied the word meteorology a few hundred times and then shortened the lines and marked the text first as U.S. English, then as British English in Word. I know the BE division is meteor-ology, whereas the U.S. is either meteor-ology or mete-orology (U.S. divide between syllables, BE at divisions in word structure). Actually, I checked in Merriam-Webster’s Third and it gives me-te-o-rol-o-gy

The divisions Word gave me in both BE and AmE (of course I can reject them) were

All are acceptable in U.S. English, only the second in British English.

4. You can find the rules in style guides. A good source for British English is the Oxford Minidictionary of Spelling, a very small book with information on the rules and a list of words. ISBN 0 19 863150 2 (many British secretaries have this in their desks).
Many American dictionaries show the divisions. I once bought a small Macmillan spelling dictionary for a client when the Oxford was out of print. I was disappointed to find that although the book was published in London, it used U.S. word divisions.

5. It is not enough to look a word up in the minidictionary and choose a division. There is more to it than that. For instance, don’t divide at the bottom of a page; try not to divide in two consecutive lines; don’t add a third division to a word that is already hyphenated (e.g. twen-tieth-century music). Divide -ed only in arrow columns and then only if the word is of at least six letters and the ending is pronounced as a separated syllable, thus:
ended (too short)
calmed (ending not pronounced)

This is why I don’t divide/hyphenate myself!

6. In BE, there are preferred points to divide words, and secondary points. The secondary points should be avoided except in narrow columns of type such as newspapers and dictionaries. Thus hy-phen-at-ing could be summarized as
hy 2 phen 1 at 2 ing – where 1 is the preferred division and 2 are the secondary divisions.

7. For some of the rules , e.g. how often to divide, you need to go to a style guide, such as Ritter’s Oxford Guide to Style.

8. I just noticed that Judith Butcher, in Copy-Editing – The Cambridge Handbook, ISBN 0 521 40074 0, writes:

bq. At proof stage, word breaks should be left unaltered unless they are actually misleading or startlingly wrong.

I usually do that, but my situation is not quite the same as hers, being in Britain. I could define a lot of what I see as ‘startlingly wrong’.

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