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Justification for non-justification

Started by Mechanic, January 08, 2010, 10:54:15 PM

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When computers were first introduced into composing rooms to convert so called "idiot tape" into justified tape for typesetting they had a number of short comings. The computer's ability to hyphenate was limited to a small exception dictionary and logic. The logic was that most English words could be broken after the third, fifth and seventh letter and so on. The humorous results of this rule, such as the-rapist and thera-pist, have been covered previously. This type of incorrect hyphenation was picked up by the readers, (remember readers) and added to the exception dictionary. Computers also had the ability to add thin spaces between letters in a word. Narrow newspaper columns often produced disastrous results, such as one word letter spaced to fill the line.

I believe that because of these short comings many editors started using ragged right typesetting. This has now become an accepted style.

That is my opinion. Another man's opinion is that non-justified text is as good if not better than justified text. It starts out with the following couple of pars.

Someone once asked an old and grizzled typographer why he preferred justified typesetting. His answer was simple: it was the way he was taught to set type on a Linotype machine as a boy. When asked why he supposed he was taught to set justified type on the Linotype, his reply was that was, "That was the way the old-timers preferred to set foundry type." When pressed, why he thought the old-timers preferred justified composition, he pondered for a moment and guessed that it was because the first typesetting, the Gutenberg Bible, had been set that way. When further pressed about the Gutenberg Bible's arrangement, he thought for a moment longer and then beamed. His answer was: "Because the scribes in ancient monasteries produced their manuscripts that way."

So there we have it, justified typesetting has been a prominent composition format for so long because God likes it!

The rest of his opinion can be found on the following web page.
George Finn (Mechanic)
Gold Coast


George, George, George

How can you possibly get accepted and excepted mixed up? 

It's as bad as can now, vs. can not.

It sometimes takes us typesetters to sort out the mechanics.




Well Merv,
It is now set and published so it will have to stand.
Blame my wife, she is my reader.
Mechanics need all the help they can get.
Hang on this is the internet anything can be changed.
Thanks Merv.
George Finn (Mechanic)
Gold Coast

Dan Williams

I think the ragged right phenomenon pre-dates this U&LC crowd.
When teletype (computer tape) had been used for newspapers, they began justifying left. As explained to me, the spacebands were a huge maintenance problem. They were able to to purge spacebands, because most contemporary linecasters had quadders of one form or another and because 2nd generation computers were already processing the tape. This is exactly what George describes.
The keyboardists generated unjustified tape that was routed through a computer that hyphenated and calculated correct word spacing (via thin, en and em combinations) with revised tape sent to linotypes.
The autosetters and quadders were set to quad left, and the spacing made it look justified. Have a look at the columns in US newspapers from the early 70s - many of them should show a slightly "rough" right column line.
So the way I understand it, the basic process actually began in the 60s, prior to advent of phototype to the general industries in the early 70s.
When those early phototypesetters came onto the market, they merely borrowed a technique that had already been used for a number of years.
And then came Direct Input systems ...microcomputers...WYSIWIG....laser..etc


That's correct Dan, at the Sydney Morning Herald we stopped using spacebands in 1971. There were two problems with spacebands on the Linotype Elektron. Spaceband transpositions and a build up of metal on the spaceband sleeve, due we believed to the bands getting hot. The build up of metal would crush the side wall of the matrix causing hairlines in the printed matter. We ran an extra two channels of space mats, a thick thin and a thick en. The PDP8s then in use could calculate to bring the line within 2,000 of an inch of full justification, so the error was hardly noticeable.

Interestingly I picked up my December issue of National Geographic and low and behold there is an item, complete with a photograph of a page from a fourth-century Bible, hand writen on parchment in ancient Greek. The text of the bible appears to be anything but justified. Maybe God's will has now been done.

The text related to the item is set ragged right. If NG does it, it must be correct.

The bible pages are available on the internet. You need to skip through a few pages to get a complete page.

George Finn (Mechanic)
Gold Coast

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