The Magical Optional Hyphen in Microsoft Word

My wife was once working on a document and trying to get Microsoft Word to do something.  She asked me for help and I said, “Give me a minute to think.  There’s nothing we can think of to make Word do that someone hasn’t already thought up.”  And we figured it out.

I should have taken my own advice and spent some time thinking about what to do about all of the occurrences of obersturmbannführer and other long German nouns in this thriller I’m preparing for print.  You see, because the lines are fully justified, and because Word didn’t recognize the German terms, I was getting lines with large spaces in them when terms like obersturmbannführer were pushed to the next line.  I tried manually hyphenating the terms in the worst cases, but the truth is that I have to use this file for different purposes and I think those manual hyphens will come back to haunt me.

Then I discovered the “optional hyphen.”  Visible only when Word needs to use it, it always shows up when you use the Show/Hide command to see all non-printing characters.  By doing a global search and replace for obersturmbannführer and making it ober-sturm-bann-führer with each of those hyphens being optional hyphens (they look like a little, sideways L in the program), as well as for other incredibly long German nouns, I was able to eliminate the spread-out sentences.

So, if you are self-publishing and using Word to prepare your book for publication, remember this important tool.

A.

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