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I am building up a typography glossary and I'm looking for the name of this old typographic technique. I have seen it now and then since I was a kid. It was common for more than some eighty years ago, a lot before the advent of digital typesetting. It was used when saving up space was a must, as in glossaries, dictionaries or books with a lot of text.

In this procedure, a line's end is continued at the blank end of the previous line preceded by an opening square bracket, instead of continuing it by adding a line, as it would normally happen. I hope the attached image illuminates the concept.

enter image description here

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I've found three sources mentioning this technique.


Beadnell, Henry: A guide to typography, in two parts, literary and practica, 1859, p. 165-166:


De Vinne, Theodore Low: The practice of typography; modern methods of book composition, 1904, p. 148:


De Vinne, Theodore Low: The practice of typography; correct composition, 1910, p. 278:


Sadly, none of these books mentions a proper term for the technique (and they all seem to advice against using it if avoidable).

In The practice of typography; correct composition, De Vinne uses the expression: "bracketing in a previous line of a word too long for the line", which is the closest thing to a name I can find.

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  • 1
    Idunno bracketing previous line sounds like a good term – joojaa Aug 10 at 18:10
  • Kind of find it funny that where that "[and" should fall appears to be subjective. If after "Knives", then why not before "Scissors"? if not after "Knives" then where? --- Rhetorical.. not expecting you to know this. 😀 – Scott Aug 10 at 19:39
  • @Scott, that is kinda strange. Didn't even notice ... hmmm. Ah! Searching for the verse reveals that it's from the poem "The Friend of Humanity and the Knife-grinder" and it seems that the author deliberately placed a line-break before "Scissors", so the "bracketing" is done to maintain the original line-breaks. Also see this. – Wolff Aug 10 at 20:12
  • Makes sense... someone was being a bit too fastidious though, I think. The line breaks in that original don't appear to be anything more than due to the end of spacing provided for the previous line. To me it appears the important part was 3 full lines, then one small right justified line. Not where the breaks were specifically. I mean the original wasn't line-for-line center justified either. So break one format but cause confusion by trying to retain another... meh.. I'm just rambling :) – Scott Aug 10 at 20:18
  • @Scott, true. And this whole "bracketing" method is kinda crazy. Never seen it before I saw this question. It's like float: left in css going terribly wrong. – Wolff Aug 10 at 20:23

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