Picture a paragraph that starts at the bottom of one page and continues at the top of the next. When only the last line of the paragraph appears at the top of the second page, that line is called a
Be aware that if you use widow and orphan control, you will frequently see blank lines at the bottom of your pages. This is normal, since lines must be transplanted to cure the problem.
Widow and orphan control in a word processor is all-or-nothing. You can’t control widows and orphans separately, even though widows are more distracting. Why? Orphans appear at the beginning of a paragraph, so they’re at least a full line. But widows can be any length, even a single word, because they appear at the end of a paragraph.
Do you need widow and orphan control? Try it. See how it looks. In my own work, I approach widow and orphan control the same way I approach ligatures—I only use it if widows and orphans are causing a visible problem. Otherwise, I find that the blank lines at the bottom of the page are more annoying than the widows and orphans.
Widows & orphans aren’t typically an issue on the web, because web content doesn’t naturally span multiple pages. Browsers, however, are happy to put a small word alone on the last line of a paragraph, which always looks bad. You can fix this with a nonbreaking space and a little clever programming.
Here in the 21st century, the widow and orphan terminology lands on the questionable side of quaint. I favor coining a new term for this typographic condition. One word should suffice—it’s the same problem, just at different edges of the page. Maybe stragglers and thus straggler control? Nominations welcome.