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Last time, I wrote about the typographic term for a trailing word on its own, at the end of a paragraph. Is it still useful as mnemonic device if people don’t agree on its application?

It’s one of those things that has bothered me for a while, but I wasn’t quite driven to the lengths of Will Weaver and Kate Whiteman of You May Also Like: they interviewed a few well-known designers in their 2014 article When is a widow not a widow, and didn’t seem to get a consistent answer there either.

One more reason that using the term “widows” to refer to a trailing word is confusing on the web: it actually already exists as a CSS property.

Well before responsive web design, it was possible to apply device-specific CSS. As long as that device was a printer. For example, a common pattern is to simplify the site’s design, or maybe remove a background colour and make the text black.

@media print {
	body {
		background: white;
		color: black;

Within these print-only styles, you can also request that the rendering engine eliminates “widows” and “orphans,” which in this case follows something much closer to the print design usage of the term: avoid single lines at the start or end of a page.

Now, it’s probably more likely to be used alongside CSS multicolumn layouts. They do exist! There’s an example using this with columns on the MDN web docs.

Regardless, it has nothing to do with that single trailing word at the end of a paragraph, or (depending on your screen width and device), contained within this email.

Until next time,